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How to Get a Housing Rental License in Philadelphia

How to Get a Housing Rental License in Philadelphia

Every landlord or entity that rents-out a residential housing unit in Philadelphia is required to obtain a rental license (formerly known as a housing inspection license).  The following is a simple step-by-step guide to walk you through the process of getting your rental license(s):


Step 1: Obtain a Commercial Activity License and a Philadelphia Business Tax Account Number


The application for both the Commercial Activity License (CAL for short) and Business Tax Account number (BIRT for short) is a combination application.


If you already have a Business Tax Account number but do not know your Commercial Activity License number, that is okay. Fill out the housing rental license application and leave the Commercial Activity License number blank. Licenses & Inspections can fill-in the blank for you when you go down to acquire the license(s).


If you have a Commercial Activity License number but cannot figure out what your Philly tax account number is, you must get the number from the revenue department in the basement of the Municipal Services building at 1401 JFK Boulevard (right next to Licenses & Inspections). God speed! 😉


Note: Many people put each property they rent out into a different LLC. You must have a Commercial Activity License and a Philadelphia Business Tax Account # for each LLC that will be renting-out housing units. You cannot utilize the same CAL and BIRT numbers for different LLC’s (but you can if the same LLC is renting-out multiple properties).


Step 2: Confirm that You have the Zoning Approval for the Property


You will not be able to acquire your housing rental license(s) if you do not have the zoning permit for the property in question.


If you do not have your zoning approval, you must apply for a Zoning/ use Permit. There’s work to be done!


If you have your zoning permit(s), holla! Move to the next step.


Step 3: Ensure There Are No Outstanding Violations on the Property


The City of Philadelphia will not issue your rental license(s) if there are any outstanding violations assigned to the property.


You can check to see if there are any outstanding violations at: li.phila.gov.  


Step 4: Make Sure Your Taxes Are Paid-Up


Not sure? You can check if you are tax compliant here.


Make sure that you are checking the tax compliance for the LLC entity (SSN if sole proprietor) that is applying for the housing rental license.


Note: Steps 2-4 can be addressed simultaneously.


Step 5: Fill Out a Housing Rental License Application


Here is a link to the application.  You may apply online here, but it often does not work.


You only need to fill out one application for each property that you are renting units in.  For example: If you are renting 10 units in one building, you only need to fill out one application. You will simply mark ‘10 units’ for total rental units.


Note: If the property in question was built prior to 1978 and will be occupied by a group that includes a child under the age of 6 years old, you must take the necessary steps to confirm that the property is lead free or lead safe. You are held responsible for this by law and will be required to confirm this on the rental license application, as well as required to provide the tenants with certain statements and materials.


Step 6: Go to Licenses and Inspections and Apply for your License(s)


Head down to the Municipal Services building at 1401 JFK Boulevard.

Make your way to the basement.

Pull a “D” ticket for “New Licenses”

Wait forever. Resist the urge to leave. Meditate. Laugh at the craziness around you. Do whatever it takes not to leave.

Hear your ticket number and praise the lord.

Hand over your application, wait for it to be processed, and then pay.


Each rental unit is $55. You may pay with a debit card or an e-check.


Step 7: You’re Good to Go!


At this point you should have your rental licenses(s). Store them in a safe place digitally for easy access.


Don’t forget: You must renew your housing rental license annually. Set up an automatic reminder in your Google calendar, reminders, or some other automated way to remind you each year.



You Should Know…


You may have your rental licenses, but there are additional steps you must take and requirements to fulfill in order to be in full-compliance as a landlord or entity renting housing units in Philly.



If you have any questions about these steps or need some help with the process, feel free to reach out to us.

We will be posting a followup to this on the additional steps you must take to be in compliance next week.

Philly Zoning Team
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