Building Permits & Design Review

If you live in the District of Columbia and intend to modify your house or even put up a fence, a building permit may be required. Regular maintenance work (such as painting or repairing existing plumbing) does not require a permit, but a permit will be required if the work extends to the replacement or reconstruction of a significant part or parts of a building. The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) issues all building permits. The property owner is responsible for obtaining and displaying any building permit that is required when the work is being performed. Failure to comply may result in fines and significant delays in the work. The DCRA website contains detailed information on building permits and how to obtain them. (LINK here to DCRA website.)

If you live in a historic district, the building permit must show a clearance from the Historic Preservation Office (HPO), which entails review of the project design. Under regulations approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board, HPO staff has the authority to sign-off on minor projects and those clearly meeting established design guidelines. An HPO staff member may be consulted during regular office hours in the DCRA Homeowner’s Center at 1100 4th Street SW.

Most of the work required for regular maintenance of a building in the Mount Pleasant Historic District either will not require a permit or can be approved over the counter by HPO staff in a visit to the DCRA Homeowner’s Center. However, major work – such as that including significant demolition and changes to the exterior of a building – must be approved by the HPRB at a public hearing. Hearings are scheduled once a month, except during the month of August. The review process focuses on the design of the project and aims to ensure that proposed changes to the exterior of a historic building are “compatible with the historic district.” In cases going to HPRB, HPO staff will work with the applicant to develop a recommendation for the Board in the form of a staff report, and community input will be sought.

HMP reviews all cases going to the HPRB for decision and welcomes the views of neighboring property owners in its own review of projects. We encourage applicants to contact us early in their development of plans for a project so that we may identify potential issues and facilitate approval of projects wherever possible. We strongly recommend that all potential applicants contact Timothy Dennee, the Mount Pleasant Specialist in HPO, at the same time via email to obtain his guidance on possible pitfalls and procedures to be followed.


Different Kinds of Work Require Different Levels of Review

The following are rules of thumb from the HPO website to determine what level of review a specific project may require:

Work Not Subject to Historic Preservation Review
  • Interior alterations and non-structural interior demolition
  • Ordinary maintenance
  • Painting and paint color selection (with the exception of landmarks with unpainted masonry)
  • Gutters and downspouts
  • Window attachments (Screens, storm windows, non-commercial awnings, security bars, air conditioners
  • Window repair (reglazing, caulking, weatherstripping, consolidating deteriorated elements)
  • Landscaping (planting or removing trees and shrubs, but not including paving)
  • Movable site features (outdoor furniture, play equipment, sculpture and ornaments, light fixtures and lamp posts
  • Dumpsters, scaffolding, construction fences, use and occupancy permits
  • Any work not requiring a building permit

Minor or Routine Work (where HPO response/approval may be expected the same day)
  • Minor repairs and in-kind replacement of deteriorated elements (roofing and flashing; siding, cornices, moldings, shutters, and trim; front steps, walks, fences, and other site elements; masonry repointing or repair that does not require HPO site visit or review of test patch)
  • Front fences up to 42” high and retaining walls less than 12 inches high
  • Alterations and installations clearly not visible from a street (skylights, vents, and chimneys; HVAC equipment and solar panels; satellite dishes and antennae; dormers; opening or blocking up window and door openings on secondary elevations
  • Work in rear and side yards clearly not visible from a street
  • Backyard fences up to seven feet in height
  • Steps, walks, and retaining walls
  • Patios, terraces and first floor decks
  • Garden sheds, gazebos, and trellises
  • Garage door replacement
  • Parking pads on private property accessed from an alley
  • Certifications of designated property for parking and loading waivers; renewal permits Excavation, sheeting & shoring and other underground work for approved construction
  • Unenclosed sidewalk cafes on existing paving with removable furniture
  • Subdivisions involving minor or insignificant lot changes, conversion of assessment and taxation lots to record lots

Work Requiring HPO Full Staff Review (HPO response/approval within 5 business days)
  • Demolition of landmarks or contributing buildings in historic districts, substantial or in their entirety, as defined in DCMR 10-C, Section 305
  • New buildings
  • Front and side additions, including new porches (other than reconstruction of missing original porches) and porch enclosures
  • Front alterations, such as new dormers, entrances, and entrance features
  • Substantial rear additions
  • Roof additions or decks visible from a street
  • New two-story garages and garages prominently visible from a street
  • New curb cuts, driveways and parking pads in front or side yards
  • Significant alteration of important architectural features (window or door openings on front facades; removal of special windows, distinctive materials, and decorative architectural features)
  • Subdivisions involving landmarks, significant changes in lot boundaries, or substantial combination/division of lots
  • Work that exceeds HPO delegated authority or determined by HPO to be inconsistent with HPRB standards and practices

Major Work Requiring HPRB Review (HPRB review typically within 30-60 days)
  • Demolition of landmarks or contributing buildings in historic districts, substantial or in their entirety, as defined in DCMR 10-C, Section 305
  • New buildings
  • Front and side additions, including new porches (other than reconstruction of missing original porches) and porch enclosures
  • Front alterations, such as new dormers, entrances, and entrance features
  • Substantial rear additions
  • Roof additions or decks visible from a street
  • New two-story garages and garages prominently visible from a street
  • New curb cuts, driveways and parking pads in front or side yards
  • Significant alteration of important architectural features (window or door openings on front facades; removal of special windows, distinctive materials, and decorative architectural features)
  • Subdivisions involving landmarks, significant changes in lot boundaries, or substantial combination/division of lots
  • Work that exceeds HPO delegated authority or determined by HPO to be inconsistent with HPRB standards and practices

Leave a Reply