The following answers the most frequent questions about the building permit process.
When do I need a building permit?
You are required by law to get a permit for construction in the District of Columbia. 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)
What do permits cost?
Consult the list of fees.
When do I need a public space permit?
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.
What other permits might apply to my project?
Your project may require these additional permits:
Note: Only licensed DC contractors for the specific trade may apply for these permits.
What should I bring when I apply for my permit(s)?
Apply for your permit at 1100 4th Street SW, Second Floor. Most permits require the following forms:
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. To order a plat, bring your square, suffix, and lot numbers. You must draw all existing structures and proposed additions to scale on the plat. An architect or contractor should help you with this. Click her for instructions. See also Plat Request form for current information including fees.
What types of work do not require a building permit?
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
Information on permits in historic districts
What does a building permit allow?
A building permit is an authorization to build according to a specific scope of work, including approved plans. Any modification of permit scope or approved plans must be specifically approved.
A building permit issued by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs does NOT give you the authority to:
How can I find my square, suffix and lot?
You can look up your square, suffix and lot (SSL) at www.taxpayerservicecenter.com. You can also find this information on your real property tax bill.
When do permits expire?
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.
What is a plat? When do I need one?
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.
Read more on building plats.
Request form with current fees
How can I find out the status of my permit application?
You can check the status of your permit online. You'll see which disciplines (electrical, structural) have reviewed your plans to date.
Please note: You may be able to view comments about your project online, but you won't be able to pick up your plans until all required disciplines have reviewed them.