How To Get Your Permit On Time

Time is Money


When you are planning to renovate a home or start a new business, many times, the most important thing to consider is timing. So if your project involves obtaining permits or licenses from the City, it is important that you know what the different timetables are.


But before we discuss specific timetables of different permits, the first thing to know is that you will never be dealing in absolutes. No one can say for certain exactly how long the permit process for a particular project will be. Even if you know each particular timeline for each application, it is very rare for an application to go through the approval process with absolutely no revisions.

The good news is that once your permits are approved you will have six months to a year start your new business or begin construction on your property. So by working with the guidelines, laid out below, you can ensure that you will have your project will start right on time, no waiting around for your permits to get approved.


Permit Review Periods


There are a variety of permits that you can obtain over the counter. By-right use permits and interior only demo permits can be obtained the same day you apply. So can any of the so-called EZ permits for building, plumbing, and electrical.


To find out if your project qualifies for an EZ permit make sure you carefully review all of the EZ permit criteria.


The next class of reviews is five-fifteen business days. Building and zoning permits for one and two family homes fall into this review period, and so do use variance applications. These projects are essentially accelerated applications, however, applicants do not have to pay for an accelerated review, and they also do not have the option to pay for a faster review.


For all other building and zoning applications, those applying to multi-family buildings and signage, the standard review period is twenty business days. However, if you are applying for a project that falls into this category of review, you can pay an acceleration fee to have your application reviewed in five to ten business days. The acceleration fee for building permits is $540 on top of the standard $100 application fee. The acceleration for zoning permits is $420 also added to the standard application fee of $100.


So How Long Does It Really Take?


As you may have realized there is significant variation in the length of review periods for different kinds of applications, and for many projects, you need a combination of permits and licenses to get approved. This means that predicting the length of the permit acquisition process varies on a case by case basis. But there are some general timelines we think can be helpful.


If your project is either a by-right use or a renovation with a limited scope of work, and you think everything you need will fall into the first category of permits I would suggest getting your permits no less than a week in advance. You may find out in the course of this that you or your contractor isn’t tax compliant or needs to update their insurance. So you want to give youreslf at least a week to get everything in order if it isn’t already.


If some of the permits project requires fall into the second category I would say it’s best to get started no less than a month ahead of your planned start date. Even when the review period is between five to fifteen business days, you are dependent on the discretion of the plans examiner to issue a decision. And more often than not, plans examiners request additional information in order to make their decision on whether or not to approve an application. So we always factor in two review periods plus a few days to collect and submit additional information.


In cases where all or most of your permit requirements are in the third category, and you are not planning to accelerate, we suggest applying roughly three months in advance of when you would like your project to begin. The reasoning here is again typically to account for additional information.


Other Extended Timelines


For projects which require obtaining a special exception or a variance, we recommend our clients begin at least three to six months in advance. For more detail on this process and why it takes so long, see our previous post- How Long Does Zoning Take?


The other kind of projects that we like to have started more than three months in advance is those that exceed 15,000 sq/ft. Projects of this size require more pre-requisite approvals and typically involve many more people and details to be scrutinized, which means they typically include at least two requests for additional information. On top of potentially needed Art Committee Review, Water Dept approval they typically require a Civic Design Review. And although Civic Design Review technically isn’t a longer process than a typical zoning variance, it can take much longer to get to that point. So we suggest leaving close to a year to get all permits and licenses in order. 


Philly Zoning Team
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