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City of Philadelphia

Designation FAQ

The Philadelphia Historical Commission designated my property as historic and listed it on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. What does this mean?

When the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated your property as historic, it officially recognized that your property represents an important aspect of the city’s history and assumed the responsibility of preserving that history. With the designation, the Historical Commission assumed the authority to regulate your property; this authority is akin to the City’s zoning authority. The Historical Commission joined in a collaborative effort with you, the property owner, to protect and preserve the historic property. To protect a historic property, the Historical Commission reviews every proposed alteration to that property that requires a building permit and/or changes the exterior appearance of the building(s), its site, or permanent site features such as walls and fences.

Why would I want my property designated as historic and listed on the Philadelphia Register?

Designation provides some benefits. In addition to the satisfaction derived from the stewardship of a historic landmark and the community pride fostered by the recognition of the historic district, recent studies in Philadelphia have shown that property values in historic districts fluctuate less and increase more than those of comparable properties outside districts, in part because every property is protected from the effects of inappropriate alterations at neighboring properties. Also, the Historical Commission provides historical and technical assistance to the owners of designated properties without charge. Finally, designation may qualify your property for grants and tax credits for preservation.

How can I determine whether the Historical Commission has designated my property?

The staff of the Historical Commission can confirm whether your property is designated as historic. It may be individually designated and/or located within the boundaries of a historic district. The Historical Commission’s offices are located at 1515 Arch Street, 13th Floor and its staff can be reached by telephone at 215.686.7660, weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Would I be forced to restore my property if it is designated?

No. A property is designated as is, including features that are not in compliance with historic preservation standards. Non-compliant changes undertaken before designation are “grandfathered.” The Historical Commission cannot unilaterally force a property owner to undertake work, except in the very rare case that neglect threatens the survival of the historic resource. The Historical Commission’s review authority is limited to review within the scope of work proposed by the property owner. For example, if you propose to replace your windows, the Historical Commission can require that the new windows match the original windows. However, if you propose to replace your windows, the Historical Commission cannot require you to replace a non-historic door or rebuild a missing chimney.

Will historic designation prevent all alterations and new construction?

No. The Historical Commission is not mandated to prevent alterations, but instead to oversee alterations to ensure that they are appropriate. Designation provides a mechanism to preserve the physical and visual characters of a property and historic district and to ensure that these special qualities are not compromised or destroyed. The Historical Commission reviews proposed changes to determine whether they are appropriate for the designated property or historic district, but it does not prevent all alterations and new construction.

As an owner of a designated property, what are my obligations under the Historic Preservation Ordinance?

In general, every owner of a designated property has three obligations to comply with the Historic Preservation Ordinance:
1. You must seek and obtain prior approval from the Historical Commission before you undertaking any work to the designated property;
2. You must comply with all conditions and requirements of approvals issued by the Historical Commission; and,
3. You must maintain your property in good repair to ensure that it does not deteriorate, decay, become damaged, or otherwise fall into a state of disrepair.

Will the Historical Commission make me repair my building if it is in disrepair?

If a historically designated building or other resource falls into a state of deterioration, decay, or disrepair such that it is threatened, what is called “demolition by neglect,” the Historical Commission has an obligation under the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance to seek to compel the property owner to repair the resource. The Historical Commission works with the City’s Department of Licenses & Inspections and Law Department to enforce the Historic Preservation Ordinance and compel the owner to make the requisite repairs.

What if the Historical Commission requires me to do something I cannot afford?

The Historical Commission does not have the authority to require anything that would create an unreasonable or undue economic hardship for you. The Historic Preservation Ordinance authorizes the Historical Commission to relax and even disregard its preservation standards in cases of economic hardship. The Historical Commission and its advisory Committee on Financial Hardship evaluate claims of hardship and determine their merit.

I am about to sell my historically designated property. Should I tell the new owner that the property is designated?

Yes. If you are the seller in a residential real estate transfer, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act Seller's Disclosure Form provides you with an opportunity to disclose whether “you are aware of any historical preservation restriction or ordinance or archaeological designation associated with the property.” Sellers in other types of transfers should likewise disclose designations.

Does historic designation affect the tax assessment?

No. Historic designation is not a factor in the assessment of property by the Board of Revision of Taxes and will not result in higher taxes.

Is a listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places different from a listing on the National Register?

Yes. The National Register of Historic Places is a nationwide list of historically significant properties administered by the National Park Service. The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) in Harrisburg acts as the National Park Service’s agent for properties on the National Register in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Register is unrelated to the National Register; however, properties may be listed on both Registers.