A building permit is an authorization to build according to a specific scope of work, including approved plans. You are required by law to get a permit for construction in the District of Columbia. Any modification of permit scope or approved plans must be specifically approved.
A building permit does not give you the authority to:
- Build in or occupy public space,
- Remove or prune trees greater than 55” in circumference (18” in diameter) on public or private property. (If your project requires that you prune or remove trees, please contact the Department of Transportation (DDOT (Urban Forestry Administration)
- Occupy your building after construction. (You must get a Certificate of Occupancy before you open your business or occupy your commercial building.)
You need permits for these projects:
- New construction and foundations
- Additions, alterations, or repair of existing buildings
- Construction of retaining walls, fences, sheds, garages, or vault construction
- Erection of signs or awnings
- Layout of interior space for tenants in new or existing commercial buildings (e.g. changing the floor plan of a building from six one-bedroom apartments to three two-bedroom apartments)
Consult the list of fees to find out the cost of a permit.
Any issued permit will become invalid if the authorized work is not begun within one year after the permit is issued, or if the authorized work is suspended or abandoned for a period of one year, after the date work is begun.
You will be fined if you start construction before you get a permit or after it expires.
Unless you are in a historic district, the following work does not require a building permit:
- Brick pointing
- Caulking, patching, and plaster repair
- Installation of cabinets and architectural millwork
- Installation of window screens and storm windows
- Repair of existing fences with like materials
- Retaining walls, 18 inches (0.46m) or less in height
- Construction of garden storage sheds complying with DC Code Section 105.2.6
- Painting, but not painting with fire-retardant paint
Replacement of the following materials:
- Non-rated windows and doors
- Gutters and downspouts
- Private sidewalks and driveways
- Non-rated suspended ceiling tile
- Floor coverings
- Up to 160 square feet (9.3m) of gypsum board
- Up to 10 linear feet (3.05m) of duct work, in non-hazardous and commercial kitchen exhaust systems
Your project may require additional permits such as Supplemental Systems Installation (A/C, electric, plumbing, etc.) and Water or Sewer Excavation (pipe installation, water main connections, etc.)
Note: Only licensed DC contractors for the specific trade may apply for these permits.
A public space permit is required to use or install structures on public space—the area between the building or property line and the curb. Many front yards in the District are considered public space. Examples of work that requires public space permits include the following:
- Dumpsters in public space
- Sidewalk construction and repair
- Sidewalk cafes
- Front patios
- Flag poles, planter boxes, retaining walls and fences in public space
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) manages and oversees the use and occupancy of public space. Learn more about public space permits at DDOT's website.
Apply for your permit at 1100 4th Street SW, Second Floor. Most permits require the following forms:
- Building Permit Online Application
- Plan Submission Checklist
- Notification Form - Safeguards During Construction
- Environmental Intake Form
- Contract Agreement
- DDOE Environmental Questionnaire
- Lead Hazard Control Form for existing buildings built before 1978 (available in package below)
- Reasonable Accommodations Form
- Zoning Data Summary Form
- Complete Building Permit Application Package
- Certificate of Use Guidelines
- After Hours Guidelines
View the building permit application requirements to see all the supporting documentation required for your particular permit.
Depending on the type of permit a plat from the Office of the Surveyor may be required. A plat is a scaled drawing of a lot, showing the lot lines and record dimensions. It must show all existing and proposed structures, drawn to scale. Plats are required for all exterior work.
You can get a plat of your property at the Office of the Surveyor. Once you get the plat, you must draw the structures on the document before you submit it with your building permit application.
To order a plat online, please read Get a Building Plat.