Learn about historic designation, its effects, and what it means for property owners.
Historic designation in Philadelphia
How can I find out if the Philadelphia Historical Commission has designated my property?
It’s important to note that the local register is different from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NRHP is a nationwide list maintained by the National Park Service. However, your property could be listed on both registers.
My property is designated. What does this mean?
To be on the register, your property must have met the criteria for designation. It might be:
- Connected to a significant event or person.
- Representative of an architectural style.
- Located in a historic district.
- An archaeological site.
The Historical Commission regulates designated properties. You need the commission’s approval if you want to:
- Make changes to your property that require a building permit, or
- Alter the exterior of the building or site features.
These reviews focus on changes to facades and other exterior features. The commission only has jurisdiction over building interiors that appear on the register.
What are my obligations under the historic preservation ordinance?
As the owner of a historic property, you must:
- Get approval from the Historical Commission before you work on the property.
- Follow the conditions of the commission’s approvals.
- Keep your property in good repair.
Benefits and effects of designation
Why would I want my property designated as historic?
Stewardship of a historic landmark is a point of pride for many property owners. By taking care of your property, you play a role in preserving Philadelphia’s history.
The Historical Commission provides expert advice on maintaining historic properties at no charge.
Properties in historic districts often have higher, more stable property values. With preservation rules in place, neighboring buildings are less likely to suffer from inappropriate changes or neglect.
Does historic designation affect my tax assessment?
Historic designation is not a factor in property assessments. It won’t result in higher taxes.
Altering historic properties
Will historic designation prevent all alterations and new construction?
The Historical Commission’s job is to manage change, not prevent it. The commission makes sure alterations are appropriate for the property.
When you’re considering alterations, contact the commission staff for advice. They can suggest preservation techniques and explain the commission’s review process.
Will I be forced to restore my property if it’s designated?
No. Except in cases of extreme neglect, the Historical Commission can’t make you work on your property.
Alterations made before the property’s designation are grandfathered in. For example, if your property has non-historic windows, you won’t be required to restore them when the property is designated. You’ll only need to get the commission’s approval if you decide to replace them.
Will the Historical Commission make me do work to my building if it’s in disrepair?
Designated properties sometimes face “demolition by neglect.” That means that they’re threatened by deterioration, decay, or disrepair.
When this happens, the commission enforces the historic preservation ordinance. Together with the Law Department and the Department of Licenses & Inspections, they’ll take action to get you to repair your property.
What if the Historical Commission requires me to do something I can’t afford?
The commission can’t make you do work that would cause unreasonable economic hardship. The commission’s advisory Committee on Financial Hardship evaluates claims of hardship at public meetings. Usually, these claims have to do with the proposed demolition of historic buildings.
Using and selling historic properties
Does the Historical Commission regulate the use of buildings?
No. The commission does not regulate use. Use is a zoning matter.
The Historical Commission encourages adaptive reuse. Through adaptive reuse, you may use a property in a way that’s different from its original purpose. For example, you might turn a private home into a bed and breakfast. This can give a building new life while maintaining its historic character.
I’m about to sell my property. Should I tell the new owner that it’s designated?
Yes. If you are selling your property, you should inform the buyer that it is historically designated.
For residential real estate transfers, you can use your seller’s disclosure form to report this information.