Pennsylvania building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues

Pennsylvania Building Codes, Ordinances, Permits, U&O issues

When buying or selling a home, there are many local laws, building codes and municipal ordinances and requirements when a property is sold or transferred. Before you go to list your home for sale, you should research Pennsylvania building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues that affect your real estate transaction.

The moment a property is listed and put up for sale, the only initial due diligence required for the seller is to complete a Seller’s Disclosure form. This form in Pennsylvania is required with any sale of real estate. It is used to disclose everything and anything known or should be known about the property. The purpose is for full disclosure when selling to a buyer who should have as much information as possible to make a decision to purchase a home for sale, a lot, piece of land, farm or commercial building.

Pennsylvania building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues

Local Inspector discussing U&O, Local Code issues with new home owner prior to settlement.


A home buyer looking to buy a property should expect to receive the Seller’s Disclosure from their real estate agent or buyer’s agent prior to making an offer on a property. The Seller’s Disclosure is part of the offer and agreement of sale as a required document completed and signed by the Seller (signed, dated and initialed) along with the Buyer who is accepting the property in the condition disclosed by means of dating, signing and initialing the document in similar manner.

The issue for home buyers is they often find a property, schedule a showing with their agent and fall in love with the home for sale or property. It’s only at that point that the flags go up in the transaction: how good is this home, land, farm or building? These questions about the integrity of the property are answered in the Seller’s Disclosure.

Still after much is disclosed in this form, there will always likely be a home inspection (see FHA Home Inspection) and an appraisal unless the buyer opt-out of such inspections. However, the Seller is still on the hook and is required to provide Use & Occupancy certificate from the local municipality – called an U&O. These U&O certificates are issued locally at the township or borough and can often be ordered online. In Philadelphia, a U&O is issued by Philadelphia’s License & Inspections (L&I) office. A Philadelphia U&O can be ordered online too.

Whenever a U&O is ordered, the seller should verify standard items are in place and have been addressed including but not limited to the following:

Pennsylvania Municipality U&O requirements

1. No current violations.
2. Fines are paid in full (prior or at settlement).
3. Permits pulled for major projects like decks, basements and roofs.
4. Smoke Detectors – working, less than 10 years old, properly located.
5. Handrails in proper locations (Ex. Stairs to the basement).
6. GFCI’s – ground fault circuits in near water sources ((strict municipalities).
7. Permitted & Approved Electrical Panel (strict municipalities).
8. No broken window panes (strict municipalities).
9. No visible cracking/peeling of paint (strict municipalities).
10. No cracked sidewalks (strict municipalities).

*These items vary by municipality, township, borough and city.

Smoke-Detectors-required-U&OMany building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues may also be discovered by a qualified home inspector but only the actual U&O certificate issued by the municipality will specify what MUST be addressed prior to transferring and taking possession of a property.

Ask to See the Permits

When a listing agent begins the process of working with a seller, the agent should address these potential issues when processing the listing and preparing it for marketing. However, even a real estate agent is not fully aware of each and every variation from one municipality to the next. Buyers are always told Caveat Emptor before buying a home, the same should be said of the seller. Every seller should be aware of local Pennsylvania building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues that could impact the sale of their home or property.

Before a homeowner can start a project on their home, they are always advised by their municipality or city building department to check with them PRIOR to starting a new renovation or addition. For example, if a homeowner plans a major renovation with mechanicals, plumbing, and electrical work, they will likely be required to submit architectural drawings & plans prior to starting the project.

In the event permits are not pulled, the local building code enforcer has the right to stop all work, charge fines where applicable and even require demolition if not approved. Even when the job is done, the permit must be closed before the finished work is considered complete and acceptable to most local municipalities. Without their sign-off, it could still be considered open and a U&O will not be issued without addressing items discovered by the officer.

Historic Homes have additional U&O considerations

If the home or property being sold is historic (age of qualified homes vary by municipality) it may require additional inspections or certification. Many municipalities have historic commissions and committees who must approve modifications, additions and changes made to a property. These can include home color, roof materials, fences, lighting, driveways and additions – style, materials, size, etc.

And while older homes face extra scrutiny, newer homes also face additional approval by being required to be built with the latest building codes and environmental friendly building techniques. Even when purchasing new construction, be sure to inquire from the building about building materials used, construction methods and what International Building Code standard are used in their homes.

Pennsylvania Building Codes, Ordinances, Permits, U&O issues create delays

In the event their are building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues discovered during the local municipal inspection, it is often required for the seller to fix, remedy and/or correct all issues prior to settlement. However, many times the seller’s agent is slow to ordering these documents or they aren’t able to be scheduled in a timely manner for settlement. Under these circumstances, additional escrows made be used to put the approximate amount aside to endure it covers any potential correction after settlement. Many times this needs to be approved several days in advance by a mortgage company or bank – so the sooner the U&O is ordered, the better the outcome – for both parties.

Recently in Pennsylvania, the legislature passed a bill that protects home owners, buyers & sellers from overly demanding municipalities called Act 133 of 2016. Since many Pennsylvania building codes, ordinances, permits, U&O issues delay settlements, the PA legislature helped address this through recent changes to the Pennsylvania Act. It addressed “situations in which municipalities were not following the Act, leading to some real estate transactions being postponed or cancelled due to minor property maintenance violations” and provides a clear path to settlement.

In conclusion, a buyer should always request a Seller’s Disclosure for any property prior to formalizing an offer or purchase strategy. If there are questions about prior repairs or improvements, a list of permits from the municipality can help thwart any future issues.

If you’re looking for a local PA real estate agent, contact us today. We’re here to help you List & Sell, Buy a Home, or rent/lease a property.

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