Do You Need a Permit to Finish a Basement in Pennsylvania

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You need a permit to finish a basement in Pennsylvania if there is structural work done, the egress points are being altered, or any big changes are being made to the electric, gas, mechanical, or plumbing systems. No permits are required for cosmetic work or ordinary repairs.

Renovation projects can be a great new hobby for most. However, even if you own the property, you still need permission for certain renovations. Permits are standard procedures to ensure that safety is the main priority and specific building codes are adhered to in projects. Skipping the permit train now may land up hurting your pocket later as you can see in my article: What Happens if I Finish My Basement Without a Permit.

Permit requirements for finishing basements differ according to state, but they are also often specific to counties, townships, or municipalities, so you may have to investigate a little deeper. However, this article will give you a good idea of what to expect and where to start looking for the permit details in Pennsylvania.

Permits Typically Required According to Pennsylvania Code

According to the Pennsylvania Code Section 403.62, you need a permit to:

  • Enlarge, alter, or repair (apart from “normal repairs”) a residential building.
  • Making any changes ro a load-bearing wall or partition, or part thereof.
  • Cutting a load-bearing beam or support.
  • Removing or changing means of egress (which is required when the basement is turned into a living space).
  • Adding to or relocating plumbing, gas, soil, sewage, wiring, or mechanical systems.

Little Giant Ladders, Velocity, M13, 13 Ft, Multi-Position Ladder, Aluminum, Type 1A, 300 lbs Weight Rating, (15413-001)

Should it be an emergency repair or modification, the owner is allowed to commence without a permit, granted they have applied for their permit within 3 business days of when the repair or modification occurred.

General Permit Application and Post-Application Information

Who Applies for the Permit and What Must Be Included?

The homeowner or an authorized agent (such as your contractor) (Section 403.62(a) of the Pennsylvania Code).

Applications must include the size and location of the modifications and current structures and how far it is from the lot lines.

Homes located in a flood hazard area as stipulated by the National Flood Insurance Program, need the following documentation to be sent with the application, Indication of flood risk areas, design flood elevation, and flood zones. Flood elevations are stipulated in the Flood Insurance Rate Map.

Who Approves or Denies the Application?

The application, along with all construction documents, specifications, and plans related to the repairs or modifications, must be submitted to the Building Official. They have the power to grant or deny your application entirely or only in part.

They can even grant you a permit for the foundations or part of the structure before you apply for the rest of the construction. This can save time, allowing you to get started on the project while you wait for certain documents, etc. However, you have to bear in mind that this approval does not guarantee that the rest of your structure will be approved.

(Section 403.63 of the Pennsylvania Code).

How Long Does It Take to Get an Answer?

The Building Official typically takes 15 working days to come to a decision, so take this into consideration when you are planning the basement project timeline.

However, if you have had your plans drawn up by a licensed professional who is subject to the governing of the Uniform Construction Codes and ordinance, this time can be reduced to 5 working days because they trust the designer to adhere to the rules of construction.

(Section 403.63 of the Pennsylvania Code).

What Happens if the Application Is Denied?

If your permit is denied or partially denied, you will be told what the issues were and where to find the correct information or specifications. The Building Official is even required to mark on the construction papers that you submit where non-design changes are necessary.

Then you will agree upon an extension for the deadline with the Building Official, so you will not have to reapply immediately.

(Section 403.63 of the Pennsylvania Code).

Permits Must Be Kept on-Site

Once given the stamp of approval, construction documents are sent back to the applicant to keep on-site, available for inspection. The permits need to be kept on-site for the full duration of construction.

If you were required to make changes and you do not, or if the permit was granted in error based on incorrect information, then the permit can be revoked.

(Section 403.63 of the Pennsylvania Code).

How Long Does the Permit Last?

Permits are only valid for up to 5 years unless construction work does not commence or fees are not paid within 180 days of permit approval. After these 180 days, the permit will expire. However, you can apply for an extension if you have a justifiable reason for the delay.

Furthermore, if work was commenced, but is subsequently stopped or abandoned, the permit will also expire within 180 days from the start of construction.

(Section 403.63 of the Pennsylvania Code).

All Changes Must Be Approved

No construction project follows the original plans to the letter. There will always be changes that need to be made along the way. These changes will need to be approved. This is why it is often better to hire a contractor as they can arrange the approval for you, instead of you having to try to do it in your spare time.

(Section 403.63 of the Pennsylvania Code).

Permit Specifics Determined at Township Level

If a property owner is transforming their basement into a more habitable room, one would need to adhere to the rules around permits for finishing basements, which are determined by your township and can, therefore, differ. You will need to look at your township’s codes and regulations.

Close-up Of Human Hand Holding Pencil Over Paper Cadastre Map

I provide a few examples below.

Manheim Township

The permit application can be found here. This needs to be completed by the property owner.

The permit fees are calculated in the “Alternations” section of the Permit Fee Schedule Worksheet. An invoice reflecting the fees will be sent to the owner before a permit can be issued.

One needs to submit 2 copies of a basement floor plan and wall cross-section and another 4 copies of a site plan if installing exit ways through windows, outside staircases, or BILCO doors.

If gas is being installed a Gas Piping Certification Testing Certification needs to be completed by the property owner.

Plan specifications and codes can be found here.

If you are only replacing electrical devices (light switches) or modifying drop ceilings, no permit is required.

Montgomery Township

The permit application can be found here. This is to be completed by the property owner.

Some general requirements need to be adhered to when finishing a basement.

  • If there are one or more rooms, each room must have a means of egress.
  • Portable heaters are not compliant.
  • The installation of a second kitchen is forbidden.
  • Etc.

The extensive list of requirements can be found here.

The plans needed for the application include double sets of wall framing details, basement floor plans, and plumbing and HVAC plans.

Inspections need to be carried out once construction is completed and before occupancy can be permitted.

North Fayette Township

According to North Fayette Township: Department of Community Development, a permit application form needs to be completed by the property owner as well as the Worker’s Compensation Insurance Certificate if the owner is doing the work or if the contractor does not work for a company.

Permits will only be issued once a permit fee is paid.

Permit turnaround time is between 2-5 business days.

A plot survey that demonstrates where the structure under modification is located and its distance from plotlines need to be submitted with the application. This can be hand-drawn or through ariel shots. Two sets of construction plans must also be sent through.

All supporting documents are to be sent electronically or dropped off at the Community Development drop-off location in the Township building.

Whitehall Township

The permit application can be found here. This is to be completed by the property owner.

Each application will be reviewed for a fee of $ 55.00. Separate permits are issued for different fields of work.

Some general requirements and codes need to be adhered to when finishing a basement, listed in detail here.  Plans submitted need to reflect the nature of the room being finished and the locations of switches and egress points.

Supporting documents and construction plans should be sent via email or dropped off in the grey “Development Office” box situated in front of the municipal building.

My Basement is Already Finished: Retroactive Permits

If you finished your basement without knowing that you needed a permit, or you moved into a home with a finished basement and are now experiencing problems with re-selling the house, then I suggest you read my article: How to Get Permit for Already Finished Basement.

For the most part, it’s a relatively easy process, but it does depend on your state and the standard of construction.


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