January 31, 2024

An Overview of the DC Permitting Process

An Overview of the DC Permitting Process

Disclaimer: The information gathered here is deemed reliable as of the date of publication. For additional information on this topic contact Evelyn Miller, Partner, at 202-753-7400 or visit the DC Department of Buildings Permitting webpage.

How do you get a building permit in Washington, DC? There are many steps and you may be required to get additional approvals and services from other agencies in the process.

DC Permit Pre-Application

Before you apply for a DC building or development permit, it is important that you read the development standards in Title 12 of the DC Municipal Regulations (DCMR), which outline regulations related to the use of land, the size and height of buildings, lot sizes, provisions of yards, parking requirements, etc.

Before You Submit a Permit Application

Next, do research to understand the development restrictions for your project.

Here are a few steps to help you conduct your due diligence:

  1. Visit the DC Office of Zoning, DC Zoning Maps, and Zoning Handbook web pages to find your zoning district, determine if you are in a zoning overlay, and identify all applicable regulations.
  2. Learn about additional development restrictions from other agencies including Historic Preservation, National Capital Planning Commission, US Commission of Fine Arts, etc.
  3. Find out if you need to submit Office of the Surveyor documents along with your permit application. Documents may include plats, subdivisions, and street and alley closing forms. A plat is a scaled drawing of a lot that displays lot lines and record dimensions. Plats are not required for jobs that consist only of interior work, but plats that show all existing structures drawn to scale are required for projects that include exterior work.
  4. Ensure that required plats are certified by the DC Surveyor. If you need to obtain a plat, you must order it in person at the Office of the Surveyor. You will need the Square, Suffix, and Lot (SSL) number for each property and $30 per plat.
  5. Do you need a new address issued? If so, apply for one online through the DC Customer portal
  6. Schedule a Preliminary Design Review Meeting (PDRM) if your application is for a large-scale project like the construction of a new residential or office building. The PDRM gives you the opportunity to review your building plants before actually filing for the permit.
  7. Schedule other pre-application meetings with applicable agencies such as DC Water, DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Department of Health (DOH). Meetings with these groups help you avoid issues that could come up later when your permit application is reviewed, especially for large projects.

Environmental Review Process

If you submit an application for a DC permit, you are also required to submit an Environmental Intake Form (EIF) to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to determine if an Environmental Impact Screening Form (EISF) is required based on specific criteria outlined in the Environmental Policy Act

To learn more about the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) review process, read the Environmental Impact Screening Form Review FAQ document. Permits cannot be issued until after the environmental review process is complete, which typically takes 30 days or less.

How to Prepare Your Permit Application

Before you submit your permit application:

  • Double-check that all required information is provided, boxes are checked, and signatures are present.
  • Ensure the addresses on the application are valid.
  • Collect all of the required documentation for your application.

Submit Your Permit Application

For projects involving one- and two-family residential properties, use the DOB Permit Wizard to submit the permit application online.

For all other projects including those involving commercial buildings, solar, demolition, raze, and after-hours permits, use the Citizen Access Portal

Check for Completeness

After you submit your application through the Citizens Access portal, it will be reviewed electronically.

When your application is received by DOB, it will be reviewed to ensure it is complete and that it meets the basic requirements for plan review. Pre-screen review occurs in different phases based on the type of plan review selected for your project.

Submit Your Plan

After submitting your permit application, you will receive an email with a link to the ProjectDox ePlan review system. In it, you will upload the plans and supporting documents for plan review. 


After you submit your plans and supporting documents, the pre-screening takes place. A Plan Review Coordinator reviews your application and plans in order to evaluate whether or not you meet the minimum requirements for a plan review. 

Plan Is Reviewed

If approved at pre-screening, your project is assigned to the required plan review disciplines. Each disciple reviews the plans and either approves them or puts a hold on the application so you can make corrections and respond to the reviewer’s comments.

In most cases, plans are routed through:

  • Zoning review
  • Mechanical/Plumbing review
  • Electrical review
  • Fire review
  • Structural review
  • Green
  • Energy

The following agencies may also be involved in the review process if your project involves historic districts, public spaces, restaurants, or excavation:

  • Office of Planning (Historic Preservation)
  • District Department of Transportation (Public Space)
  • Department of Health (Community Hygiene)
  • Department of the Environment (Soil Erosion and Storm Water Management)
  • Water and Sewer Authority

Once all disciples and relevant external agencies approved and stamped the plans, final permit approval can be given.

Permit Is Issued

Upon permit application approval, you will be sent a notification to pay any outstanding permit fees. The notification may also include requests for missing application details such as the contractor’s information. The contractor’s information, specifically the license number and mailing address, is required before a permit can be issued. If you are the homeowner who is completing the work yourself, then list yourself as the contractor for the permit application submission.

To edit missing information such as this, log into your Citizens Access account and select the applicable permit record. Click the edit option and update the data as needed.


The DOB has two categories of permit-related inspections:

  1. Building Inspections. These include plumbing, electrical, fire, and construction inspections meant to ensure the building was constructed in compliance with the building code and approved plans. Expect this type of final inspection for renovations.
  2. Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) Inspections. These are related to the use of the building and are required before the building is occupied, with the exception of single-family dwellings. Expect to obtain this for a new build.

Schedule plumbing, electrical, fire, construction, elevator, and/or boiler inspections by calling the Building Inspections Scheduling unit at (202) 671-3500. The phone system is available to schedule construction inspections 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Third-party inspection agencies are acceptable if the guidelines are followed.

Certificates of Occupancy

The Certificate of Occupancy (or the C of O) certifies that the building use complies with building codes and DC zoning regulations. Please note that single-family homes, individual units in apartment buildings, and individual suites located in an office building do not require Certificates of Occupancy.

This document is required in the cases of:

  • New construction
  • Alterations or revisions
  • Temporary occupancy
  • Changes in ownership, occupancy load, and use

In the case of new construction, there are three subsets of C of O:

  • Conditional
  • Completion of core and shell
  • Establishment of a new occupancy

The C of O must be in your possession and posted onsite before occupation and use of your building.

Begin the Certificate of Occupancy Process

You can read about the C of O process on the DOB’s web page. Begin the process of obtaining your certificate of occupancy by filling out the application on the Certif platform here.

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