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Every U.S. state holds the power to create laws and regulate them according to their particular needs – which is why it is so important to consider the specific ordinances in Philadelphia if you are considering investing in vacant properties.

This article reviews a few essential statutes you should know about to prevent fines and violations on your Philadelphia vacant property investment.

The information contained in this article is not intended to be legal advice.

Vacant Residential Property License

This license helps the City keep a record of unoccupied properties and is needed if you own an unoccupied property so to avoid fines and violations. Property owners and managers can apply for this license so long as they meet the following requirements.

Commercial Activity License

Any person or legal entity that does business in Philadelphia needs this license, even if located outside of the city limits. The Commercial Activity License links all your businesses and the legal entity you registered for your Business Income and Receipts Tax.

To apply for this license, you must provide specific documentation like your tax account numbers, Business Income and Receipts TAX ID, tax compliance on all city taxes, and ownership information.

The process can be done online or in person at the Permit and License Center; it has no cost and does not require renewal.

Click here for more information.

Activity License Number

Certain non-commercial activities performed in Philadelphia need this license, including renting up to three units in a building you live in, operating a non-profit, and getting a vacant property license.

Any person or legal entity can apply for a license as long as they provide a few documents like the Federal Employer Identification Number or Social Security Number, a City of Philadelphia Tax Account Number, and the School Income Tax.

You can request the Activity License Number online or in person; it has no cost and doesn’t need to be renewed.

Visit this website for more information.

Once you meet the requirements mentioned above, you can apply for a Vacant Residential Property License in the Permit and License Center with a previously assigned appointment, or you can do it online. The license fee is $165 plus the application charges ($20) and must be renewed annually.

Vacant Properties Permits, Licenses & More

The City of Philadelphia website has provided the public with a general view of permits, licenses, and taxes relating to property and housing. Here we consider a few of the documents that could help you with your vacant property investment business in Philadelphia.

Zoning Permits

The Philadelphia Zoning Code regulates how properties are used and developed in the city, and any property owner or authorized agent can apply for Zoning Permits.

You don’t need this permit for alterations – to an existing structure – that do not change the area, height, floor area, legal use, fences, canopies, decks, exterior painting of murals, etc.

To apply, you must fill out a permit application that includes the current owner’s information and provide a lease agreement if necessary. If your project is not eligible for an EZ Permit, you will have to submit site and elevation or section plans.

There are instructions regarding specific zoning permit types that you can learn more about here.

Building permits

Any property owner or their authorized agent can apply for this mandatory permit before starting a project that constructs a new building, enlarges or adds to an existing structure, partially or fully demolishes a structure, includes repairs that aren’t part of regular maintenance, and so on.

You don’t need a Building Permit for projects like fencing up, exterior work, sidewalks and driveways, and interior finish work, to mention a few. On the other hand, some projects might require you to submit plans, while others don’t need them and are eligible for an EZ Permit.

If your property is in the Special Flood Hazard Area, you will need approval for construction in the floodplain – additional documentation or a review meeting might be required.

Applying for a Building Permit involves a lot of information, forms, and other documents. For example, aside from the complete scope of work and current owner information, you might need an Application for Accelerated Review, a Waste Hauler form, a Zoning Permit & Approved Zoning Site Plan, a Structural Design Criteria Form, Special Inspections Documentation, and so on.

Visit this website for more information.

Certificate of Occupancy

This certificate is required for some construction projects – it conveys that a building is safe to be occupied, and you need it for new constructions, additions, and projects that change the use or occupancy of a building. Any property owner, manager, agent, or tenant can apply for this document, and it is issued along with some Building Permits – meaning that there is no separate application or extra charge for a Certificate of Occupancy connected to a Building Permit.

To apply for this certificate, you will need to submit an application including a description of use and current owner information, plans for the project, and contractor if it is determined that your building needs repairs or improvements, which will have to be done before the Certificate of Occupancy is issued. Also, some affidavit documents, like the Limited Cooking or the Restricted Use ones, might be required.

Additionally, you may need related permits if you are planning a change of use – like increasing or decreasing the number of residential units on a property, starting a daycare center, establishing a restaurant or a business office, converting a warehouse into artist studios, and so on. You will need to asses a Zoning Permit for any change of use before applying for a Certificate of Occupation.

If you wish to apply for this certificate without a Building Permit, you can do so online or in person, considering filing, permit, surcharge, and record retention fees.

Click here for more information.

Join the Do Not Solicit list

Wholesalers and real estate professionals can be pretty insistent on contacting you through calls, letters, or even visits about selling or renting your property. To prevent this from happening, the Do Not Solicit Homeowner Protection Law is there to shelter you from the pressure of these experts, prohibiting them from approaching you with renting or selling intentions.

Any residential property owner in Philadelphia may join the Do Not Solicit list so long as their name is on the deed or have a legal claim to ownership of the property. This law does not apply to commercial property owners.

You can sign up to stop unsolicited offers on your home or ask to be added through the Do Not Solicit hotline at (215) 686-4500.

Get a copy of a deed & record it

The Department of Records maintains records of deeds, mortgages, easements, notary commissions, and other documents. They can supply you with a copy of the one you need so long as you provide them with information about the property address, grantor, grantee, and deed date.

You can visit the Department of Records in person, mail your request and payment, or subscribe to the PhilaDox Eweb to check the records.

For more information about getting a copy of a deed or any document and about recording, visit the property, lots & housing section of the City of Philadelphia website.

Buy, sell & rent a property

In this section of the City of Philadelphia property, lots & housing website, you will find some interesting things about buying, selling and renting a property.

In case you are interested in purchasing a City-owned property, you can find valuable information through the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC), the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), and the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office.

If it’s renting you are thinking about, check this website.

Property Maintenance – Vacant Premises Code

The American Legal Publishing Corporation provides the public with digital versions of the official printed copies of codes of ordinances – and on this website, you can find those of Philadelphia. These documents are for informational purposes only, and the official code should be consulted before taking any action. Here we summarize the SECTION PM-306.0 of the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code – Vacant Premises.

According to this code, vacant premises shall be adequately maintained so as not to affect public safety. Hence, the owner of any vacant property shall maintain the building in a clean, safe, secure, and sanitary condition, keeping the interior and exterior free of garbage and debris. In addition, it is crucial to ensure a good roof state and that doors and windows are properly secured.

Property inspections are to be conducted within fifteen (15) days of acquiring them and at least once every two weeks after that to determine whether the vacant property complies with the code or not.

This Vacant Premises section also states a mandatory designation of a property manager. If the owner of the vacant property does not live in the city, an authorized agent shall be appointed to perform inspections and any needed action to ensure the proper state of the building.

Additionally, the code insists the owners shall register their properties with the Department no longer than five days following the transfer of ownership.

If the proprietary of vacant premises does not comply or fails to correct the conditions specified in the Department’s notice within the required time, penalties and fines may be imposed.

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NOTE: The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content included in this site without seeking legal or other professional advice. The contents of this site contain general information and may not reflect current legal developments or address your situation. We disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on any content on this site.

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