Step-By-Step Guide to Getting a Housing Rental License
Every landlord or entity that rents-out a residential housing unit(s) in Philadelphia is required to obtain a housing rental license (formerly known as a housing inspection license).
The rental license itself is one piece of the compliance puzzle. There are prerequisites to being able to get the rental license, and then there are other things you must do or fulfill after you get the actual license.
We will lay everything out for you in this step-by-step guide. We have also included a downloadable checklist at the bottom of the guide.
Step One: Obtain a Commercial Activity License and a Philadelphia Business Tax Account Number
If you already have your CAL + BIRT for this associated LLC/business/property, skip to Step 2.
The application for both the Commercial Activity License (CAL) and Business Tax Account number (BIRT) is a combination application. You can apply online or in person in the basement of the Municipal Services building.
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).
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 Zoning Permit (approval) & Certificate of Occupancy for the Property
You will not be able to acquire your housing rental license(s) if you do not have the proper zoning permit / use registration permit for the property.
If you have your zoning permit(s), holla! Move to Step 3.
If you do not have your zoning approval, you must get it. Click HERE.
If you are obtaining a rental license for a property with 2+ units, you also need to have a certificate of occupancy (CO), which is tied to the building permit/building code; approving that the structure is fit to occupy.
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 outstanding violations on the property.
You can check to see if there are any outstanding violations here: li.phila.gov. If a violation status says “open”, you need to rectify it.
Step 4: Make Sure Your Taxes Are Paid-Up
Not sure? You can check if you are tax compliant HERE.
Select “permits/ licenses” as compliance type.
Make sure that you are checking the tax compliance for the LLC (SSN if sole proprietor) that is applying for the housing rental license!
If you are not tax compliant, reach out to the revenue department to find out why, and then fix it.
Step 5: Lead Paint Due Diligence
If your property is new, or built after 1978 and does not have any lead paint, then move to step 6.
If the property in question was built prior to 1978, 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.
If the property was built prior to 1978, then review THIS. It is a guide for landlords about how to certify that the property is safe from lead paint harm.
Review it and take all of the necessary due diligence steps you need to take to be compliant. That guide includes everything you need.
Step 6: Fill Out a Housing Rental License Application
Here is a link to the application. (The fees are wrong and have not been updated by the city.)
You may also apply online here.
The online system, is funky; we usually just apply in person.
You only need to fill out one application for each property that you are renting units from. 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.
Step 7: Go to Licenses and Inspections and Apply for the License(s)
- Head to the Municipal Services building at 1401 JFK Boulevard
- Make your way to the basement.
- Pull a “D” ticket for “New Licenses”
- Wait. 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 whatever God you praise.
- Hand over your application, wait for it to be processed, and then pay.
Each rental unit is $55 + tax. You can pay with a debit card or an e-check.
Once you have your rental licenses, store them both digitally and in hard copy format in safe places for easy access.
Step 8: Final Certificates and Approvals
Obtain your Certificate of Rental Suitability. You will be sending it to each of your tenants.
Download and save the Partners for Good Housing handbook. You will be sending this to each of your tenants.
We recommend you read through it and make sure you’re not taking any actions that are against what you have agreed to.
Create a statement, written and signed by you the landlord, certifying that the unit is in suitable condition to rent. Your signed statement must include the following information (if it is all true, if not, you need to make sure it is true):
- The unit has working fire extinguishers and smoke detectors;
- The operating systems and the property do not have health and safety defects; and;
- The landlord will continue to maintain the operating systems and condition of the property and throughout the tenancy.
Step 9: Notify Your Tenants
You are required to supply your tenants with a variety of materials. We recommend you send an inclusive email to them including:
- Certificate of Rental Suitability
- Lead paint disclosures/certificates/etc.
- Partners for Good Housing Handbook
- Copies of your rental license(s)
- Written statement about property
Final Steps and Reminders
You must renew your housing rental license annually. To ensure you remember, set up an automatic reminder in your calendar, reminders, or some sort of automated way to remind you each year to renew them.
Still Confused? Lost? Don’t Have Time to Deal With It?
No worries! We can do the heavy-lifting (or paperworking ;]) for you! It’s a lot of steps and things can fall to the wayside when you try to do it yourself; we get it.
It doesn’t make much sense to avoid getting it done, as you will be way worse-off in the long run for not doing your due diligence and getting your licenses.
Why Get Your Licenses?
Having any property without the proper rental licenses is a major issue for you as a landlord.
It’s like driving without a license: it’s all fun and games (except it’s not, because you are constantly bugging out about getting caught…) until you get pulled over; your license suspended, and your car impounded.
Tenants can reach out to the city to file a complaint about anything going on at the property at any time. It happens constantly. If you do not have your rental license, you can and likely will be cited for violations. Violations turn into fines that turn into cease operations. (We hope you, as a good landlord, will not let it get to that point!)
Even if you have a great and well-maintained property, tenants can still file complaints about anything with the city that they are not happy about; even something that maybe hasn’t even been brought to your attention. As soon as inspectors catch wind of the lack of rental licenses, they will issue a citation. (There’s inspectors dedicated to uncovering these things, so it’s usually only a matter of time.)
The longer you wait to get your license(s), the less leverage you have if anything were to go sideways with any of your tenants. It is your duty as a landlord to obtain the licenses and supply the required materials; the city holds you to it and will not side with you if you do not take all of the steps.
If you are using our guide and checklist, please execute it completely. This is designed to guide you be fully-compliant so that if you run into any issues with a tenant, you have done your due diligence and can seek the recovery you need. Please consider the fact that real human beings are inhabiting your structures. If you want to be in the business of renting -out housing, then ensure you are providing safe and suitable conditions.
Hopefully this guide will help you take the steps necessary to get your licenses. If not, we can help.