How to Get a Zoning Variance in Philadelphia
Getting a variance can come off as a complicated and long process that requires extra money and dealing with the city, which most investors from Philadelphia view as a difficult process. In reality, getting a zoning variance is very attainable and can be done by the simple steps that I am about to break down below. In many cases, these variances can contribute to a substantial increase to your investment opportunity and more importantly, your profit. Many deals that myself and other wholesalers sell would be extremely profitable if they were turned into a multi-family. Since we are stuck selling them at the price they demand as a single family a $400 investment in a rezone can bring a whole new realm of after repair and rental value.
The steps listed below will allow you to get your investment rezoned for less than $400 and in only 4 months time.
1. Fill out the application
The application can be filled out online but I recommend going to L&I and speaking with an agent there as this will not only speed up your process but also allow you to have a better understanding of the next steps for your specific property.
- Application - https://business.phila.gov/media/Zoning-Use-Registration-Permit-Application.pdf
- Cost - $25 application fee
2. Get denied
The city will deny your application. The city of Philadelphia refuses every initial application, whether it's to get an additional appeal payment, to weed out investors that are not serious, or just for fun I am not sure but it is their process.
- Timeline - the initial review and denial will take about 4 weeks
3. File for appeal
In your appeal, you will need to explain how the variance will not create a hardship for both the city and the neighbors. They will look for things like traffic congestion, parking issues, excessive trash, etc, to poke holes into your appeal so make sure to combat all potential problems you could foresee. You will also need to submit your tax compliance certificate with your appeal.
You will want to make sure your argument is strong and factual, even if you win the variance it can be appealed by a neighbor. If this happens the Court of Common Pleas or the Commonwealth Court will review your case. These courts do not have the same discretion that the zoning board has and they will only review the factual findings of your case. This means that you will need to use hard evidence and numbers to back up your claim.
- Application - https://www.phila.gov/li/PDF/Code%20Bulletins/applicationZBA%20appeal2013.pdf
- Tax compliance certificate - https://secure.phila.gov/revenue/TaxCompliance/
- Cost - $125 application fee
4. Get scheduled for a hearing
The city will schedule you for a board hearing and provide you with in-depth information on what you need to do and prepare before the hearing. They will also provide you with large and bright posters that you will need to post on your property somewhere that it is both visible and readable.
- Info on appeal board - https://www.phila.gov/li/Pages/Appeals.aspx
- Timeline - being scheduled after filling out your appeal will take about 2-3 months
5. Prepare for hearing
Before your hearing in front of the zoning board, you will need to meet with your Registered Community Organization (RCO) to present your case to them; the RCO is a local zoning board. It will be ideal to get a few neighborhoods at the meeting to support and vote for your proposal. The goal of this is to get a letter explaining the RCO’s decision and voter registration, you will need this for your hearing in front of the city.
Before your meeting with the RCO, you will be given a letterform from the city that you will need to deliver to all residents within a few block radius, the city will provide you with the list of all addresses. The letter will state your proposed zoning change as well as the time, date, and place of your RCO meeting. You will have to pay for postage stamps, plan to send 100-200 of these letters out.
- Cost - about $100 for stamps
6. Create plans and picture
Before your hearing in front of the city's zoning board, you will need to take pictures of your property, the city will provide specific instructions. You will also have to accurately create a fully dimensioned site and floor plans for your property. This can be done easily and free through homestyler.com.
7. Win your hearing
Once you get to your hearing you're 90% of the way done. You will meet in front of a few of the city's zoning board members and the overall hearing moves fairly quickly. The city approves most of the appeals after they get to their hearing but if any neighbors within your radius show up and object or if they have a denial letter from your RCO they will deny you right away. They will give you notice of your decision at the hearing and then mail you an official notice after it is processed.
- Timeline - the time from your hearing to receiving a notice in the mail should be 2-3 weeks
8. Finalize at L&I
When you receive your final notice you will have to take it to L&I and apply for a use permit. By apply they mean pay, once this is done you will receive your permit on the spot.
- Cost - $125 application fee
* If you are going to be using this investment as a rental property you will need to apply for a rental license at City Hall. This can be issued same day and is more of a verification than an application, this will cost $55 per unit.*
If you follow this checklist you will put yourself in a great position to receive and maintain your variance. If followed correctly there will be little discretion in the process to blow up your investment. By becoming a pro at this process you will be able to capitalize on properties that are being sold cheaper because due to their zoning.
Final Cost - $375.00
Final Timeline - 4 months