When it comes to renovating an investment property, investors rarely — if ever — slap some new paint on the side of the house and walk away with a profit. There are usually a few major repairs, additions, and more. These jobs are called “fix and flips” for a reason, so get ready to fix some things.
You can't start overhauling everything before you check to see if you need a permit for the work you’re planning. In Philadelphia, you’ll need to acquire a building permit for almost any job that requires more than a bit of paint, small-scale electrical work or minor plumbing work. If you don’t get a permit before you start work, it could end up costing you. So let’s save you some serious hassle (and potential fines) by looking into what you need to know about renovation permits in Philadelphia, PA.
What Needs a Permit in Philadelphia, PA, and What Doesn’t?
Understanding what needs a permit and what doesn’t isn’t always that simple. Small things like painting, flooring, and tiling generally don’t. A good rule of thumb to go by is to ask yourself this question: Does this renovation affect the property in a structural way? If the answer is yes, then you should get a permit.
Examples of renovations that don’t require a permit include:
- Ordinary household repairs
- Painting or papering (as long as the finish is no thicker than 0.036 inches)
- Cabinetry installation
- Carpet installation
- Replacing non-fire-resistance doors and windows (as long as there’s no changes to the framing structures)
- Replacing exterior steps/stairs less than six feet high
Where Should You Begin?
To make sure all your planned renovations are done by the book, a great place to start is at Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses & Inspection. There, you’ll find everything you ever needed to know about licenses, permits, and more as they pertain to real estate. As they state, “Building permits are required before beginning projects to enlarge, repair, change, add to or demolish a structure, and to install equipment or systems in a structure.” This includes the following types of projects:
- New construction
- Alterations and addition to existing structures
- Changes in occupancy classification
- Installation or modification of fire suppression or mechanical systems
If you’re unsure whether your particular project requires a permit, the best thing to do is call the Department of Licenses & Inspection at 215-686-2400.
What Do You Have to Do to Get a Building Permit in Philadelphia, PA?
Once you’ve identified which parts of your project require a permit, you have to find and fill out that particular permit. To do that, simply visit this section of the Department of Licenses & Inspection’s website. Click on Real Estate or Property Rental, and you’ll have a list of all the possible permits you may need. The Alterations Permit can be found here, while Building Permits can be found here.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Renovation Permit in Philadelphia, PA?
Sadly, turning in your permit application doesn’t mean you can get started with your renovations immediately. That said, while permits do take time to process, you won’t have to wait much longer than a couple of weeks. In Philadelphia, it takes about 15 days to process a permit for one- and two-family dwellings. For all other property types, it takes about 20 days.
This means, it’s best to get your applications in as soon as possible, so you can concentrate on smaller renovations and preparations while you wait for approval. This will help keep you on track to complete the job on time.
And if you don’t feel like waiting, you can opt to use the Accelerated Plan Review. This reduces the processing time of one- and two-family dwellings from 15 days to just 5–10 days. Keep in mind, this is not a cheap option — it costs $540 on top of the standard permit fee just to shave off a few days, and it is not credited toward the final permit fee.
What Will My Permit Cost Me in Philadelphia, PA?
First, there’s the cost of the application itself. For one- and two-family dwellings, the fee is just $25, while all other property types cost $100. Once approved, there is the permit fee itself, which varies widely depending on the type of work being done. For a full list of fees, the Department of Licenses & Inspections has a handy PDF for you to reference.
What if I Use a Contractor? Do I Still Need a Permit?
Without question. That said, if you choose to hire a licensed contractor, that person can and should handle the permit acquisition for you. And, for your convenience, Philadelphia’s local government keeps a list of licensed contractors on hand right here.
What Happens if I Renovate without a Permit?
If you choose to move forward with renovations without acquiring the proper permit, you will get fined. The fines can range from moderate to severe, and after being fined, you’ll still have to pay for the permit application and appropriate fees, so it’s best to simply start things out the right way and get the permits you need.
Stick to the Process to Start Renovating.
While it seems like a hassle, getting a permit in Philadelphia, PA really isn’t that difficult. Just make sure you fill out your applications properly and pay the associated fees. As long as you’ve done your homework correctly, you should be renovating that investment property in just a couple of weeks.