The City of Philadelphia has a dense zoning code, and abides by the 2018 International Building Code (since April 1, 2019) and the 2015 International Residential Code. To make sense of the City’s many requirements, here’s a quick overview of the main Philadelphia zoning and building permit resources available online.
The Philadelphia Code
If you’re in the mood for a heavy read, the Philadelphia Code is the actual law of the land. Title 14 covers zoning; Title 4 covers construction (including the plumbing and electrical subcodes); and Title 11 covers the use of streets. (Don’t worry; there’s more in there.) This code is literally all Philadelphia zoning and building permit resources in a thousand-page textbook — tough to navigate, but the final permitting rule of the City.
Other Applicable Codes
Philly also is beholden to Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code, as well as to agreed-upon versions of the International Building Code. Philadelphia follows the 2018 International Building Code., but there are local amendments to the IBC codes. Most notably, the Philadelphia Plumbing Code requires copper piping where PEX/PVC piping is allowed in other building codes. Philadelphia also adheres to the 2015 International Residential Code, not the 2018 IRC. For code details, check here and here.
(Slightly) Simpler Permit Explanations
If you’re curious about zoning classifications, you can look at the City’s Zoning Quick Reference Guide. It’s easily the best way to get basic information about what you can and can’t do with your property — though be warned that the Philadelphia Code is regularly updated by City Council, and some of the information in the Quick Reference Guide can fall out of date in a hurry. The best use of the Quick Reference Guide is to get a feel for the purpose, general size, and general use of a given zoning classification. The specific details of what is and isn’t allowed in that designation may change; so for technical questions, consult the Philadelphia Code or one of these other resources.
General Property Information Resources
The Office of Property Assessment has an absolutely indispensable zoning and building permit resource set up at http://property.phila.gov/. Just type in the address you’re curious about, and you’ll see the basic layout of the property, its purchase history, any violations on it, and its permit history.
If you’d like all that information in the form of a map, try Atlas. Atlas is a City treasure, and you should make use of it: just entering an address will tell you the zoning classification, political division, assessed value, and owner of the property.