Rehab Question

8 Replies

Hey all,

Apologies if this is the wrong forum section to ask this. Did not really see where else it could go. 

So I have a great home in Fishtown, Philadelphia, PA area. It's a 2 bed 1 bath. It's a bit small at 700 sq ft. We are thinking about extending our home into the backyard region. We have a 10x10 backyard, and were thinking leave about 3-4 ft in the back for just putting HVAC system and such. Our contractor (who is licensed) said he can definitely extend it. However, he said getting permits for in Philadelphia would be like 2 months. I wanted to see if anyone has ever had experience of doing something without permits ? He is strongly advocating that we just not get the permit and extend it. However, I am worried that when we try to sell the place we may run into trouble. 

We are planning on making the master bedroom upstairs bigger and include a master bath, along with extending the other smaller room upstairs. Then we will build a 10x10 room downstairs as well so turn it into a 3bed, 2bath place and add about 250 sq ft of space total. 

All comments appreciated. Our realtor said he does things by the books, and is against not getting permits. Contractor said he can get it done in 3 weeks if we don't get permits.

@Ravi Patel - Chances are that the city will find out. It only takes one nosy neighbor to bring your project to a halt. My recommendation would be to get the permits. Justin my 2 cents.

I think there is an issue with you plans to begin with. In Philadelphia you are only allowed to build on 80% of the land on a single family or 90% for a corner unit.  I am assuming that your lot size is about 35ft and therefore you need to allow for 7ft in the back. Therefore it would only allow for a 3ft addition by right or you could get a variance which would further delay the process. A way which would allow you to build would be to be grandfathered in with an addition but it does not seem like an option. That may be the reason the contractor is looking to do without permits.

You can try a Permit Expediter. They Don't work miracles like turning 2 mos into 1 mo. but can make sure everything is done right the first time so you don't hit any snags / surprises were 2 mos. turns into more.

I would advise you TO follow all rules the city has in place. I have an appraiser friend in NYC that is great at her job BUT she loves finding areas of the home that don't have permits. She actively seeks them out and posts them on Facebook.

Having that said you CAN get away with not having a permit in the short term (some smaller items you might be ok in the long term) BUT it will catch up to you at some point. I have known lots of people in NYC who could not sell their homes because the appraiser caught work that should have been permitted. Not fun.

You're taking a real chance not pulling a permit. If anyone reports you to the building inspector, you will have to tear it down and face a fine. There are code enforcers that drive around cities and towns and all they're looking for is permits in the windows. If there's construction debris out front they have every right to step foot on your property to ask questions. From professional to homeowner, I highly recommend pulling a permit and following all necessary laws.

thanks guy. Probably won't through with it without the permits. Just have to find out about that yard rule if there is a min. length. 

Originally posted by @Ravi Patel :

thanks guy. Probably won't through with it without the permits. Just have to find out about that yard rule if there is a min. length. 

 If you Google philadelphia zoning guide and look for the your house's code. It should clearly state the max amount of the lot you can build on by right in a percentage. If you have any questions feel free to email me.

@Ravi Patel

Go to "", and go to property search. After accepting the terms and conditions, you can type in your address. This will output information about your property regarding the zoning. 

I would bet your property is zoned RSA-5

If you are RSA-5, you have a rear yard set back of the greater of 9' or 10% of the yard, not to mention an overall open space requirement of 20 - 30% depending on the location (corner or mid block). 

You will need a variance to get the rear yard setbacks changed. Getting a variance in Philadelphia will require you to meet with your local RCO (neighborhood district). Once you get their approval, you than go to the ZBA (zoning board). If you do not get the RCO vote you will most likely not win the ZBA vote (although not always the case). You will be surprised that the neighbors who come out of nowhere trying to oppose what you are trying to do (even if you're the friendliest and buddy buddy with them). The variance process takes about 2 - 3 months. If you don't get the ZBA approval, you can keep trying and making modifications to your plans. Meeting with the RCO does require architectual plans or a site survey to show them why you want to do what you want to do with your home. 

After the variance is approved, you will need to get a building permit which may require plans review if it's an extensive addition. This could take an additional month or two depending on the extent of the work. 

Good luck!


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