Permits, violations & licenses

Get a Retaining Wall Permit

Service overview

You need this permit to build a new retaining wall or replace one that already exists. Retaining walls prevent soil from sliding down a hill or other sudden change in elevation.

This permit is required for retaining walls that:

  • Are at least 2 feet high.
  • Contain flammable or combustible liquids.
  • Support a surcharge load.

You don’t need to submit plans with your application if the wall follows the EZ Permit Standard for retaining walls.

New retaining walls must not encroach on bordering property. If a wall needs to encroach, easements or similar legal agreements may be necessary.

If an existing retaining wall straddles a property line, two or more adjoining property owners may be jointly responsible for repair and maintenance of the wall. The only way to determine the exact location of any existing retaining wall is through a field survey performed by a licensed surveyor.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) issues this permit.

Who

Any property owner or their authorized agent can apply for this permit. Authorized agents may include:

  • Contractor
  • PA design professional
  • Attorney
  • Licensed expediter

Requirements

Permit application

Must include the complete scope of work and current owner information.

  • If the property was recently sold, submit a copy of the settlement sheet or deed with the application.
  • You must apply for all permits under the legal address established by the Office of Property Assessment (OPA).

Plans

If your application requires plans, they must follow plan requirements.

  • Plans must be drawn to scale on a sheet that is at least 18 in. by 24 in.
  • Include three copies of plans.
  • Plans must include the following detail:
    • Project address
    • Wall construction details, including any reinforcement, tie backs, or geotextiles
    • Foundation details
    • Drainage
    • Elevations or sections
    • Other structural and miscellaneous details
  • A design professional must sign and seal the plans if the project includes:

Contractor

A licensed Philadelphia contractor must perform the work, except when the project involves an existing one-or-two-family home. Then work may also be performed by:

The contractor must be named before final payment for the permit can be accepted. The contractor must:

  • Have an active license.
  • Be current on all City of Philadelphia taxes.
  • Have current insurance on file with L&I.

Forms and other documents

Refer to the building permits plan requirements to see if you need to submit additional documents.

Required pre-approvals

For all historic properties 

More +

For retaining walls that encroach on the right-of-way

More +

For earth disturbance of 5,000 sq. ft. or more 

More +

Where and when

In person

Permit and License Center
1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
MSB, Public Service Concourse
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Office hours: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday

Offices close at noon on the last Wednesday of each month.

Cost

Fee types that may apply

Filing fee

  • For sites containing one-or-two-family dwellings: $25
  • For all other sites: $100

This fee is nonrefundable and is applied towards the final permit fee.

Permit fee

Permit fees are based on the height of the retaining wall.

  • For walls between 2 ft. and 4 ft. tall: $125
  • For walls 4 ft. and taller: $200
  • Flat fee for one-or-two-family dwellings: $55

Surcharge fees

  • City surcharge: $3 per permit
  • State surcharge: $4.50 per permit

Record retention fee

  • Per page larger than 8.5 in. x 14 in.: $4

Accelerated Plan Review fee (optional)

Applications for new construction that include plans are eligible for expedited review. Accelerated applications are reviewed within 5–10 business days.

  • Fee: $540
  • If your plans require more than four hours to review, you will be charged an additional fee of $135 per hour.

To apply, fill out an Accelerated Plan Review application and submit with your permit application. Amount must be paid when you submit your application and will not be credited toward your final permit fee.

Payment methods and details

Accepted payment methods

Where Accepted payment
Online through the eCLIPSE application
  • Electronic check
  • Credit card (+2.5% surcharge)
In person at the Permit and License Center in the Municipal Services Building
  • Electronic check
  • Credit card (+2.5% surcharge)
In person at the Cashier’s Station in the Municipal Services Building

(Items paid at the Cashier’s Station will be mailed within five business days.)

  • Check
  • Money order
  • Credit card (+2% surcharge)
  • Cash

Checks and money orders

Check requirements
  • Make all checks and money orders payable to the “City of Philadelphia.”
  • The individual or company listed on the check must be listed on the application.
  • Personal checks are accepted.
  • Checks and money orders must have issue dates within 12 months of the transaction.
Reasons your check may be rejected

L&I will not accept checks that are missing depository information or are:

  • Unsigned.
  • Expired.
  • Post-dated.
  • Starter checks without account info

Returned payment policy

If your check is returned unpaid for insufficient or uncollected funds:

  1. You authorize the City of Philadelphia or its agent to make a one-time electronic fund transfer from your account to collect a fee of $20.
  2. The City of Philadelphia or its agent may re-present your check electronically to your depository institution for payment.

How

Apply online in person at the Permit and License Center.

In person

1
Get any required pre-approvals before submitting your application to L&I.
2
Bring your completed application, application materials, and payment to the Permit and License Center.

Applications are processed within 20 days business days.

The applicant can accelerate the application for an additional fee. Accelerated applications are reviewed within 5-10 business days.

3
If approved, the applicant will receive notice to pay the balance.

If not approved, the applicant will receive an email stating what is missing or required.

Before a permit may be issued, the contractor must be identified and confirm association with the project.

4
Once approved, schedule your inspections.

Contact your local inspection office when the contractor is ready to start work. The contact information and required inspections will be noted on your permit.

A Certificate of Approval will be issued upon successful completion of all required inspections.


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