So, you want to be a landlord? It’s a little more complicated than you might think. In most cities, you can’t actually rent out a space without the proper permit (regardless of our culture of AirBnB).
In order to rent out a space, you’ll need an occupancy permit or certificate of occupancy. This proves that your rental property is compliant with all applicable building codes and laws. In other words, it’s safe enough for you to rent to another human being. You don’t want to risk being sued for faulty wiring, flooding or whatever mishap can happen in a home.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania requires two specific permits before you can rent out a property or unit. You’ll need a residential occupancy permit and a rental permit, but they aren’t that difficult to obtain providing you pass an inspection.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
An occupancy permit is required to rent all multifamily dwellings or new single-family homes in Pittsburgh. A rental permit will also be required.
What Is a Certificate of Occupancy?
This certificate is legally required before a person can occupy a building. In Pittsburgh, it’s not required for single-family homes unless the homes are new construction, but it is required for two-family dwellings, apartments, new buildings, additions and modifications to existing buildings and even parking lots. In order to get a certificate of occupancy (which is acquired after you get a residential occupancy permit), you need to undergo a three-step process.
Pass a Zoning Review
Passing a zoning review is the first step to getting an occupancy permit in Pittsburgh. You need to apply for the review in person at the zoning review counter at 200 Ross Street, 3rd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
Pittsburgh is divided into different districts that dictate for what a property can and can’t be used. There’s a zoning map on the city’s website that can show you in what district you fit and what you’re allowed to do with your property. If you pass the zoning review (i.e., your district allows your property to be a rental), the zoning board will approve you for an occupancy permit.
Approval From the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections
After you get approval from the zoning board, you’ll need to get approval from the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections, or PLI. This department is located in the same building as the zoning review counter, and they’re the folks who check out your property’s safety standards and whether or not you’re up to current building codes.
You can complete PLI’s application form online, but a building permit might also be required. To get a building permit, you may need sealed drawings from an architect or engineer who is licensed in Pennsylvania. If your occupancy permit does not require a building permit, you can get the job done over the counter. Otherwise, it can take up to 15 days to review.
Inspection and Certificate
After the residential occupancy permit is issued, you’ll need to schedule an inspection with the building inspector listed on your permit. Once the inspection is completed, the inspector will sign off on your permit, and you’ll receive your certificate of occupancy in the mail in about a week. You might even be able to pick up the certificate in person to speed up the process.
A Rental Permit Is Also Required
After obtaining a certificate of occupancy, all landlords in Pittsburgh need a rental permit in order to legally rent out their units. This permit can be obtained from PLI and costs between $45 and $65 depending on the number of units you plan on renting.
In order to get a rental permit, the city of Pittsburgh will inspect your unit and make sure it’s up to minimum residential housing codes and that you have the minimum level of insurance required to become a landlord. You can ask for a checklist from the city to make sure you’re up to snuff before putting your unit in front of inspectors.
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.