Starting in the new year, contractors in Philadelphia will have to follow new rules meant to protect residents from construction and excavation in adjoining properties. Residents who have seen damage firsthand hope the new regulations are just a first step.
Throughout Philadelphia’s construction boom, more residents have seen projects happening next door that damage or destroy their properties, and, in some cases, drive them from their homes. Years of construction accidents and resident complaints pushed the city to try to protect property owners from neighboring work.
Digging in rowhouse basements without proper supports in place has been a leading reason for construction accidents.
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Beginning Jan. 1, the city will require excavation licenses and a separate excavation permit for contractors to dig more than five feet into the earth, in most cases. Excavators will need to submit to the city their excavation plans and preconstruction surveys that document the condition of adjacent properties.
They also will need site safety managers and a general liability insurance policy with a $2 million minimum.
Property owners next to construction sites will have to be provided with project details, protective measures, and contact information for those responsible for the sites. This applies for work such as excavations, modifications of shared walls, and construction near historic structures. Not knowing what work is happening or allowed and whom to call about problems has been a common concern among neighbors of properties under construction.
According to the new regulations, property owners or their contractors also will need to hire building professionals to perform inspections and structural checks of adjoining properties.
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The new regulations also provide additional protections for historically designated properties when excavation occurs in an adjacent structure or construction or demolition occurs on or near historic sites.
City Council passed the regulations in June 2021 with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2023. At the time, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, which is tasked with enforcing the new regulations, said the lead time was necessary to notify contractors of the new requirements and allow them to get their credentials and for the department to implement the initiative.
At a 2021 Council hearing, an L&I official said the department had been looking for ways to protect adjoining property owners for years, but the problems became more prevalent in the last five.
When Council passed the regulations, a group of Fishtown residents who have advocated for a policy change said it was a step in the right direction but that more needed to be done to protect residents and that developers, in addition to contractors, need to be held accountable.