Zoning Basics

Philadelphia's new Zoning Code is effective August 22nd, 2012. Learn more about these exciting changes in the Administrative Zoning Manual.

The Philadelphia Zoning Code regulates development within the city. Zoning regulations govern land use, the height and bulk of buildings, population density, parking requirements, the placement of signs and character of development on private property, and property uses.

The Zoning code governs two types of permits:

  • Zoning Permits authorize construction or an addition to a building. A zoning permit is required for the following:
    • All new construction
    • Building an extension to an existing structure
    • Creating a lot or subdividing a lot
    • Demolition or partial demolition of a structure
    • Billboards and certain signs
    • Construction of masonry fences above two (2) feet
    • Construction of fences above legal height limits allowed by Zoning Code in the specific Zoning classification ruling that property.  (See the Zoning Code.)
    • Creation of off-street parking or reconfiguration of existing parking
    • Installation of some signs  in addition to the actual sign permit
  • Use Registration Permits authorize a particular use of the building or ground. A use registration permit is required for the following situations:
    • Changes in any activity in an existing building
    • New business use for a property
    • Increases or decreases in the number of dwelling units
    • Elimination of an existing use in a property
    • Billboards and most signs

Completion of the Application for a Zoning and Use Registration Permit is necessary for both types of zoning approvals. Both types of permits may be required before a building permit can be issued for construction.  Any construction will also require a building permit.

Zoning and Use Application

Zoning and Use Registration Permit Application
Checklist of General Requirements for Permit Application

The Zoning Process and Timeline

  • An L & I plans examiner will review the Application to determine if it complies with the Philadelphia Zoning Code. The examiner will also answer any questions you might have. If your request must be approved by another department or agency before a permit is issued, the examiner will direct you to that agency.
  • You will be notified when your permit is ready or that your permit has been denied. This review may take up to 20 business days.
  • After your review is completed, if your proposal meets the requirements of the Zoning Code, you will be issued one of the following:
    • Zoning Permit
    • Use Registration Permit
    • Zoning and Use Registration Permit
    • Certification of Permit Not Required
  • Expiration Dates:
    • Zoning Permit - Expires one year from date of issue
    • Use Registration-
      • Expires three months from date of issue if he project does not involve construction or interior alterations.
      • Expires one year after the date of issuance – unless the project 1) has started before the expiration date, and 2) continues without interruption until it is completed.
    • Refusal or Referral  Right to appeal - Expires thirty (30) days from date of issue
    • Notice of Decision (ZBA) - Expires one (1) year from date of issue
  • Filing Fees: All zoning permit applications require a $100 filing fee ($25 for one- and two-family dwellings) at the time of application.

Appealing a Zoning Decision

  • If the examiner concludes that a project does not conform to the Philadelphia Zoning Code, a Notice of Refusal will be issued. If you wish to appeal this decision, you must file a Petition of Appeal to appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) and request a variance to the Zoning Code.
  • Residents who wish to apply for a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA) must submit a tax clearance form along with their application to prove that they are in tax compliance. The intent of this law is to better ensure that Philadelphians looking for variances have paid their taxes.
  • Applicants should fill in the required information, press submit, and then print the following screen, which is the applicant's certificate of tax suitability. The applicant should then submit the tax suitability form along with their request for an appeal to the ZBA. Applicants that experience difficulty obtaining a tax suitability form should contact the Revenue Department at (215) 686-6600.

Special Requirements

Certain zoning requests are subject to special requirements. This includes the following:

  • Flood Plain Areas
    • Zoning maps designate approximate areas of the City that are subject to "base floods". These are floods that are expected to occur at periodic intervals (years, decades, or centuries). Construction located in designated flood plain areas must meet special requirements of the Zoning Code. These requirements affect minimum elevation and may require that the plans be certified by a registered professional engineer or architect. For the exact boundaries contact the City Planning Commission.
  • Storm water discharge
  • Sub-divided parcels of land
    • If a parcel or area of a deeded property is sub-divided into two or more parcels (and with 50' or more of frontage), the plot plan must be approved by the City Planning Commission.
  • Projects that extend into the street or sidewalk
    • Zoning Application proposing new buildings, additions, or other structures that would extend partly or wholly into any street, verified on the official City map, will be referred to the Streets Department.
  • Traffic-related issues
    • All curb cuts, driveways, and parking facilities for more than two (2) slots must be approved by the Streets Department.
Please keep in mind that certain projects will require approvals from multiple Departments such as Streets Department, Health Department, the Planning Commission and the Water Department. Advanced preparation of all department requirements will help ensure a quick turnaround time for a Zoning permit approval.

Zoning Resources

  • Learn about the zoning of a specific parcel.
    • Access all previous applications, approved uses and site drawings for a parcel of land.  This is an on-line interface that allows individuals to search and view documents and drawings related to specific properties.
  • Read the Zoning Code
    • A detailed record of approved and prohibited uses within each zone in the city (see Title 14).

Contact
Department of Licenses and Inspections
1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard
Concourse Level
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Phone: 311 or 215-686-8686 (outside of the City of Philadelphia)
Hours: Note - The Permit Services Division closes at 12:00 Noon on the last Wednesday of each month. Email