Information for homeowners when new construction begins next door
In neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, residents’ homes are being affected by nearby demolition, renovation, and construction. A new city law provides new rights and information to residents about adjacent construction that is permitted after January 1, 2023.
Below are frequently asked questions about your rights when development is occurring adjacent to or near your home. Included are links to resources for further information.
- I believe that someone is about to start a construction project next to my home. What should I do?
Take timestamped photographs of your home before the demolition or construction begins. This can be done easily with most smartphones.
Most construction projects require a permit issued by the City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). You can learn more about which projects need permits here.
Once a permit has been issued, the builder is required to post it on the property. You can learn whether a permit has been issued by searching for the property here.
- What should I do if someone has started a construction project, but they do not have a permit?
If work has begun on a project, but there is no permit OR the permit is not posted on the property OR the work that is being done does not match what is on the permit, you can call 311 to report it and request that the property be inspected. You can also submit an online 311 complaint here.
If the work is being done on a weekend, you can email L&I at weekendworkLI@phila.gov.
- Is the builder required to communicate with me about the construction project next to my house before work begins?
For permit applications after January 1, 2023, builders are required to send a letter to next-door neighbors before the work begins if they plan to do any of the following things:
- Dig into the ground deeper than five feet within ten feet of the neighboring property.
- Modify the party wall shared by the neighboring property. Among other things, this includes exposing the wall, adding load to the wall, or removing walls that run perpendicular to the party wall.
- Cut any structural, roof, or wall elements—such as joists—that run continuously across the property line.
- Excavate, construct, or demolish within 90 feet of a historically designated building
However, work being done under contract with L&I or work that is required to be done to address unsafe or imminently dangerous conditions may be exempt from these requirements.
- What information must the builder provide the neighbor before construction work begins?
The builder is required to provide the next-door neighbor with the following information:
- A Notice to Adjoining Owner. You can find a sample of this notice here
- A description of the nature of the work to be completed
- The estimated schedule and duration of the work
- A pre-construction survey. You can find more detail below in FAQ #7
- Details of monitoring to be performed on the adjacent property
- Details of the protection proposed to be installed on the adjacent property
- An explanation of any need to access the adjacent property that the builder anticipates
- Details identifying any alterations to adjacent buildings required for proposed construction work
- A copy of the builder’s Certificate of Insurance for general liability
- The builder’s contact information
- When must the builder provide this information to the next-door neighbor?
The builder is required to provide this information twice.
First, the builder must provide an Initial Notification before they submit their permit application. The builder is required to include verification, signed by the neighbor, that this information was provided. If this verification is not provided, the permit will have a 60-day delay.
Second, the builder must provide a Final Notification after the permit has been approved and at least 10 days before the work is to begin. The Final Notification is to include any changes from the information provided in the Initial Notification.
- Who is required to receive this information?
The information must be provided to both the resident of the adjacent property and to the owner of the adjacent property at the address registered with the City.
- What is a “pre-construction survey”?
The builder is required to provide a pre-construction survey to adjacent property owners. The pre-construction survey must be conducted by a licensed professional engineer. It must include:
- Identification of all parts of the adjacent property that may be impacted by the construction or demolition, including the party wall, adjacent property roof, and other structural elements. If the construction will be higher than the adjacent property, the builder must also identify chimneys, skylights, mechanical equipment, and other elements on the roof of the adjacent building.
- Documentation, including photographs, of the existing conditions of the adjacent property.
- Signed verification by the person performing the survey that the adjacent property will be monitored throughout the construction or demolition.
- What does it mean to “monitor” the adjacent property?
The Philadelphia Building Code requires that certain types of construction or demolition be supervised by an on-site special inspector who is hired by the builder. For example, a special inspector is required to be on site during underpinning and demolition taller than three stories or 40 feet. Additionally, this bill will also require periodic monitoring for changes to a shared party wall.
- If the builder needs to access an adjacent property, is the neighbor required to provide access?
Sometimes a builder may wish to access the adjacent property to install siding, seal the gap on the roof, or for other reasons. In these situations, the neighbor has the right to enter an Access Agreement with the builder defining the extent of the permissible access. Sometimes, a neighbor will ask that, in exchange for access, the builder pays the neighbor a reasonable access fee or adds the neighbor to the builder’s insurance in case something goes wrong.
The neighbor may not be required to provide access, but reaching agreement with the builder may often be in the neighbor’s best interest. For example, if a neighbor refuses reasonable access but the builder needs access for the safety of the permitted project, a judge may allow access without the neighbor’s consent. Access agreements are also beneficial for the builder and the neighbor when there is a need to repair anticipated damage (such as allowing the builder to take down an existing fence with the requirement that a new fence will be installed at the builder’s expense).
- How can I find out more information?
The Department of Licenses & Inspections has a very helpful list of frequently asked questions that covers next-door construction. It is available here.
- I would like to talk with a lawyer. Can Community Legal Services help me?
Unfortunately, CLS does not currently have the capacity to represent all low-income residents who contact us. At this time, if you have questions about your legal rights and wish to consult with a lawyer, we recommend that you contact the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service at philadelphiabar.org/lris or by phone at 215-238-6333, to request a referral to a private lawyer. This is not a free service.
We also suggest that you contact your City Councilperson for assistance. You can find information about how to contact your City Councilperson here.