Philadelphia

Facade Ordinances

Ordinance Administration

The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) administers two facade-related ordinances for the City of Philadelphia, one for exterior walls and appurtenances and another for fire escapes and fire escape balconies. The L&I Department is located at 1401 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Public Services Concourse, Philadelphia, PA 19102-1687. The two ordinances are described on L&I’s Permits & Certificates website.

The Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances ordinance, which was approved by City Council on February 4, 2010, and signed by the Mayor on February 17, 2010, amended Title 4 of The Philadelphia Code (The Philadelphia Building Construction and Occupancy Code) by amending subcode "PM" (The Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code). This ordinance requires the periodic inspection of the exterior walls and appurtenances of certain buildings, the filing of inspection reports, and the repair and maintenance of certain conditions discovered during such inspections. In 2014, the requirements were moved to Section PM-315, Periodic Inspection of Exterior Walls and Appurtenances of Buildings (PDF) of chapter 3, "General Property and Structural Maintenance." The City maintains an FAQ document that provides answers to pertinent questions.

The fire escape ordinance, which was approved by City Council on June 16, 2016, and signed by the Mayor on June 28, 2016, amends The Philadelphia Building Construction and Occupancy Code by amending Section PM-702 of subcode “PM” and Section F-1011 of subcode “F” (The Philadelphia Fire Code). Similar to the facade ordinance, the fire escape ordinance requires the periodic inspection of fire escapes and fire escape balconies, the filing of inspection reports, and the repair and maintenance of certain conditions discovered during such inspections. Fire escape inspection reports are submitted separately from facade inspection reports. The City maintains a separate FAQ document for the fire escape ordinance.

Buildings Requiring Facade Inspections

Philadelphia's facade ordinance is applicable to all buildings six or more stories in height; all buildings with any appurtenance in excess of sixty feet in height; and any building, other than one- or two-family dwellings, greater than two stories located in specific areas that are yet to be determined. For affected buildings, the required facade inspections shall be conducted and reports completed no later than:

Construction date Initial report Next report
Prior to and including 1950 June 30, 2011 June 30, 2016
1951–1970 June 30, 2012 June 30, 2017
1971–1980 June 30, 2013 June 30, 2018
1981–1990 June 30, 2014 June 30, 2019
1991–2005 June 30, 2015 June 30, 2020
2006 and later See below See below

 

A waiver may be applied for if all facades of an affected building have been "substantially restored" within the five-year cycle preceding a required inspection. For all other buildings, the first inspection shall be conducted, and required report shall be filed, within ten years after issuance of a certificate of occupancy. Following the initial inspection, an affected building shall be reinspected, and the required report shall be filed, on a five-year cycle based on the original schedule. For example, per the ordinance, a building constructed in 2006 would require facade inspections to be performed and reports to be filed in 2018, 2023, etc.

Facade Inspection

  • The inspection is to be conducted by or under the supervision of "a professional" as defined by the ordinance.
  • The inspection is to include the review of previous reports, inspections, and evidence of repairs made within the past five years, including confirmation that previously required repairs were addressed.
  • The professional determines the methods employed in the inspection; however, a physical, hands-on inspection of the building (i.e., from a scaffold or other observation platform) is required for a representative sample of the exterior wall, also as determined by the professional.
  • If a distressed condition is identified, the professional is to order other inspections and/or tests that may be required to determine the significance and probable cause of the observed distress.
  • Unsafe or Safe with Repair and Maintenance Program conditions that are observed are to be photographed and/or sketches are to be made to properly document their location.
  • Upon discovery of any unsafe condition the professional is to immediately notify the owner of the building by electronic mail or by fax; and within 12 hours of discovery, notify the Department in writing or by electronic format.

For facade inspections, the professional is required to be a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania licensed professional engineer experienced in the practice of structural engineering or a licensed registered architect knowledgeable in the design, construction, and inspection of building facades. The professional is to employ the appropriate professional standard of care to detect distressed conditions.

Facade Inspection Report

The ordinance requires the inspector to classify the facade as Safe, Safe with Repair and Maintenance Program, or Unsafe. The facade inspection report submitted is to include seventeen items of specific information as described in the ordinance.

Buildings Requiring Fire Escape Inspections

Philadelphia’s fire escape ordinance applies to all buildings with fire escapes and fire escape balconies. The ordinance defines a fire escape as “A system of metal landings, balconies, stairs or ladders attached to a building that are not classified as an exterior stairway and are intended or designed to aid in egress from a building in an emergency.” A fire escape balcony is defined as “A balcony that projects from the building face and is intended for use in conjunction with a fire escape, an exit stair or an area of refuge.”

For affected buildings, the initial inspection shall be conducted, and the required report shall be filed, on or before July 1, 2017. A waiver may be applied for if the fire escapes and fire escape balconies of an affected building have been “substantially restored” within one year preceding the required initial inspection. Each subsequent inspection shall be completed, and the required report shall be filed, within five years of filing the previous inspection report.

If the construction of the fire escape or fire escape balcony was completed after July 1, 2007, the first inspection shall be conducted within ten years after completion of construction. For example, per the ordinance, a building constructed in 2008 would require fire escape inspections to be performed and reports to be filed in 2018, 2023, etc.

Fire Escape Inspection

  • Inspections of fire escape and fire escape balconies shall be conducted and witnessed by or under the supervision of “a professional” as defined by the ordinance.
  • The professional shall establish whether fire escapes and fire escape balconies are capable of meeting or exceeding load requirements by performing engineering analyses or conducting load tests.
  • If a distressed condition is identified, the professional is to order other inspections and/or tests that may be required to determine the significance of, probable cause of, and appropriate remedies for, the observed distress.
  • Unsafe or Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program conditions that are observed are to be photographed and/or sketches are to be made to properly document their location.
  • Upon discovery of any unsafe condition the professional is to immediately notify the owner of the building by electronic mail or by fax; and within 12 hours of discovery, notify the fire code official in writing or by electronic format.
  • Following the remediation of unsafe conditions, the ordinance requires the posting of a weather-resistant, reflective tag or placard stating the inspection date, the due date of the next inspection, and the professional’s name and contact information.

For fire escape inspections, the professional is required to be a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania licensed professional engineer experienced in the practice of structural engineering.

Fire Escape Inspection Report

The report requires the inspector to classify fire escapes and fire escape balconies as Safe, Safe with a Repair and Maintenance Program, or Unsafe. The fire escape inspection report submitted is to include sixteen items of specific information as described in the ordinance.

 

The information provided in FacadeOrdinance.com is general in nature and should not be relied upon as fact. Persons requiring specific information on facade ordinances should contact local authorities or e-mail facadeordinance@wje.com.