Philadelphia Enacts New Laws Tightening Building and Demolition Regulations

by Cozen O'Connor

In June 2013, a Philadelphia building undergoing demolition collapsed onto a neighboring building, killing six people and injuring 14. Philadelphia’s construction and demolition regulations were closely scrutinized in the wake of the collapse. In response, the Philadelphia City Council passed five bills in February 2014, imposing additional permitting, inspection, construction and licensing requirements for building and demolition projects within Philadelphia.1 Four of these bills were signed into law by Mayor Michael Nutter on February 20, 2014. The fifth, requiring licensure of demolition contractors, was not signed and is undergoing technical amendments.2

These laws impose new obligations on building owners, contractors and design professionals and establish or increase certain fines and fees. Therefore, it is critical that parties who are engaged in constructing and/or demolishing buildings within Philadelphia become aware of the new requirements.

A brief summary of the new provisions follows. However, due to their complexity and scope, we encourage you to contact us if you have any questions as to how your business or project may be impacted.

Permitting and Enforcement Regulations

Separate permits are required for demolition activities and asbestos activities. A site-safety demolition plan, which must include safety practices to protect pedestrians and adjacent properties, is required for all demolition projects. There are also new insurance and bonding requirements, and compliance with the insurance requirements must be documented for all demolitions. Demolition permits will become invalid if work is not commenced within 45 days of issuance, or if work is suspended or abandoned for 30 or more days after commencing.

With regard to enforcement, the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) and the Fire Department now have concurrent supervisory authority with regard to demolition projects, and either may issue a “stop work” order if unsafe or dangerous conditions exist.

Construction and Demolition Means and Methods

A “safety-zone” must be established when mechanical demolition equipment, other than hand-held equipment, is used. In many instances, the use of mechanical demolition equipment must be approved by a professional engineer who is licensed and registered in Pennsylvania. Additionally, the site must be filled and graded if construction and/or demolition activities stop, the relevant permits expire and no new permits are issued within three months of the cessation of activities on the site.

Notice and Inspection Requirements

There are new signage requirements, as well as new notice requirements for adjacent properties. At least four inspections must occur during the demolition process, plus a separate inspection for underpinning adjacent properties. Additionally, special inspections must occur under specified circumstances, such as when mechanical demolition equipment is used or when the building being demolished is three stories or higher. Further, all construction and demolition inspections must be completed by a “Special Inspection Agency” registered with the city, and all inspectors must be architects or professional engineers who are both licensed and registered in Pennsylvania.

Training and Licensing Requirements

Contractors and subcontractors are required to obtain a new demolition contractor license before performing any demolition work in the city. All workers at demolition and construction sites, regardless of position, must complete certified site-safety training courses. Inspectors responsible for construction and demolition code enforcement must undergo OSHA training on identifying worker safety issues.

Fees and Fines

Demolition fees have been increased. There are also new fines for failing to obtain the required inspections, and new fines for failing to comply with the regulations relating to asbestos-related projects. Repeat offenders might face imprisonment in addition to financial penalties.

1 Bills #130685, #130688-A, #130691-A, #130698-A, and #130847-A.

2 Bill #130688.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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