Washington DC Building Permit Guide

Author: Susan Isaacs | The Isaacs Team

Our DC building permit guide helps you learn how to obtain a building permit, understand when you do and don’t need one, and where to check your permit’s status. Find out how long it takes to obtain a building permit in the District, and how much it costs. Homeowners have many questions about the once-odious DC permitting process. Good news–it’s now easier, faster and (mostly) online!

What Is A DC Building Permit?

A DC 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.

    What Kinds of Work Does a Residential Building Permit Cover?

    For interior renovations (kitchen or bathroom remodels), an Alteration and Repair is the correct permit type.

    All projects require a cost estimate to assess the total permit fee and some will require floor plans (depending on the scope of work).

    Here’s the shortlist from the DC Dept. of Building:

    • New construction and foundations
    • Additions, alterations, or repair of existing buildings (decks qualify as additions)
    • Demolition
    • Razes
    • Construction of retaining walls, fences, sheds, garages, or vault construction
    • Erection of signs, awnings or canopies
    • Layout changes to interior space in new buildings (e.g. remodeling; changing the floor plan of a building from ten one-bedroom units to five two-bedroom units)
    • Water or sewer excavation
    • Mechanical permits for supplemental systems installation (electric, plumbing,  and HVAC)
    • Public Space permits if a dumpster(s), fencing or retaining walls are installed between the structure and the curb.

    Commercial buildings have additional requirements. Find more detail on DC DOB

      Take Note

      • DOB has an online Permit Wizard
      • Always obtain a required permit before starting work
      • Have your information and materials ready for your permit application

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      What Doesn't a DC Building Permit Cover?

      A DC 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 & occupy your building after construction.

      How Much Does a DC Building Permit Cost?

      That depends on what you’re building. Here’s a link to the new DC Building Permit Fee Schedule:

      How Long Is A DC Building Permit Valid?

      Any issued DC building 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.

      Is It Ok To Start Work Before Obtaining A Permit?

      Is It Ok To Start Work Before Obtaining a Permit?

      Absolutely not. You will be fined if you start construction before you get a DC building permit or work after it expires. DCRA can also require that all permitted work be removed. Work must be inspected on completion for the final approval to be issued.

      In fact, there’s a special department at the DOB just for folks who think that’s a good idea. It’s called DOB Targeted Enforcement. District law now allows DOB to deny issuing a building permit to individuals or entities who have received more than five Stop Work Orders (SWOs) in a 12-month period.

      They also compile a publicly-posted list of those who may be subject to heightened enforcement for potentially violating the Construction Code and jeopardizing safety. This list identifies individuals or entities associated with permits issued, and who have large numbers of SWOs. Check it out:

      When Is A DC Building Permit Necessary?

      Unless your property is located in a DC historic district, the following work does not require a DC 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″ (0.46m) or less in height
      • Construction of garden storage sheds complying with DC Code Section 105.2.6
      • Painting (exception: painting with fire-retardant paint)
      • Replacement of non-rated windows & doors
      • Siding, gutters & downspouts
      • Private sidewalks, driveways & patios
      • Non-rated suspended ceiling tile
      • Floor coverings up to 160 SF (9.3m) of gypsum board
      • Duct work of up to 10 linear feet (3.05m) in non-hazardous and commercial kitchen exhaust systems.

      Information on permits in historic districts.

      Permit requirements can change. Please check with the DOB for definitive answers on permit requirements.

      The DC Permit Wizard

      When the Department of Building was created from the restructured DCRA a few years ago, it undertook streamlining of the permitting process. The Permit Wizard is their ‘customer-friendly’ application designed to be intuitive, simple, and easy to use.

      The “wizard” guides you through a series of questions. In response, the program will:

      • Identify the permits needed for your entire project, eliminating guesswork;
      • Estimate the total cost of permits;
      • List anticipated plan reviews by DoB and sister agencies, required documentation, anticipated inspections, and;
      • Provide advisories and notifications about your property.

      Use the Permit Wizard for all new DC residential building permit applications, including trade, solar, raze and demolition permits. The Permit Wizard has also been expanded to include trade permits for commercial projects if no building permits are required, or for projects having already obtained building permits.

      All other commercial permit applications are handled through the Citizen Access Portal.

      Applying For a Residential Permit

      1. Select Permit Wizard on dob.dc.gov and use your single sign-on, Access DC, account to log in;
      2. Name the project, identify the professionals associated with the project, enter the project detail. The following materials and information will be required to begin your project application:
      • The professional license numbers for any building professionals working on your project. This may include permit expediters, architects, interior designers and landscape architects, professional engineers, etc.;
      • Have business license numbers available for any general or home improvement contractors that you expect will complete work on the project;
      • Electronic copies of any drawings or plans for your project;
      • Contracts with building or design professionals, and cost estimates associated with your project.

      3.  Submit your application.



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