Dear PoP – Contractor with DC Permitting Office Experience for a Carport/Deck Renovation

“Dear PoP,

I am looking for an experienced contractor who knows his/her way around the DC Permitting office. We want to convert our tiny back yard into a deck with a carport underneath. i was just looking to see if your readers had recommendations. I am told my job is difficult because DC has “60%” rule on lot development. This is why we place emphasis on “experience” with the DC permitting office.”

Anyone know good contractors with DC Permitting office experience? Can anyone properly explain the “60% rule” and how it is enforced?

29 Comment

  • ‘skirt the system’

    • Not advisable if this is a 20k deck you are talking about. I know people who have gotten burned doing this. Pay to put it up. get caught. have to pay to take it down.
      There are plenty of contractors who know the right people and can get these sorts of things done while covering their, and more importantly your, ass

      • i believe OP is asking for you to name these “plenty of contractors” for all of our benefit.

  • I believe you will need to get your neighbors to sign off on a variance because not only can you not build on more than 60% of your lot you are supposed to remain something like 20 feet from the property line as well. It sounds like you want the deck to go right up to the property line at the alley. You can see plenty of examples of this around but I think these days you need to get a variance.

  • Quick version of the “60% rule”: In a number of zoning district types, you can only build on up to 60% of the available land if the use is residential. Enforced through zoning permit review, inspections, etc.

  • What if you increased the gap between deck boards a bit, could you technically meet the 60%? Meaning – are they counting surface area of construction or perimeter?

    • Perimeter of the structure. Good luck getting a variance for this… if you’re the house/deck in the picture, you’re already beyond the 60% limit (grandfathered in).

    • thinking outside of the box. I like that. But I think they would measure the perimeter. An odd part of the rule is that if you have a covered front porch it counts towards the 60% but if it isnt covered is usually doesn’t count. Which is odd because the decks count towards the 60 percent even though they usually arent covered. All in all it’s a pain to work with but it is a good thing the rule exists. Believe me. You think pop-ups are bad? That is nothing compared to how bad pop-backs would be without this rule. Imagine being sandwhiched between two houses that built back to the alley line.

    • saf

      Probably not. I got denied a permit for an arbor with widely spaced slats, based mostly on lot coverage rules.

      And the % of coverage allowed varies by zoning category.

      • Probably not going to work. I was told at DCRA that a pergola with 16″ spaced beams would count against the 60%, but 24″ spaced beams would not. Of course, with a pergola you don’t actually have any appreciable deck coverage of the lot, but that’s the rules.

        • saf

          Wow, they wouldn’t give me any actual measurements, just kept saying, well, maybe if you change it we can re-review it.

          Not helpful.


    Generally, residential limits lot occupancy to 60%. You can get a special exception (from BZA) to go to 70%. Anything more than that requires a variance (harder to get than a special exception).

    Special Exception procedures:

    As someone else mentioned, there’s also the rear offset rule, 11-404, which is generally 20 feet:

    If you look at the BZA calendar, you can see lots of people applying for similar exceptions:

  • The law was implemented to prevent development of dense, sunless, slum-like dwellings. Hard to imagine that happening given the rush to suburban living that began after WWII; now that we’re back to high premiums on urban real estate, I’m glad it’s in place. I look at what some have done in the way of pop-ups and get a little ill thinking about how that would apply to horizontal expansion.

    The jackass house flipper responsible for a few pop-ups around town surreptitiously bricked over one of the very few windows of our house when he expanded the house next door.

    So anyway, structures with a roof (not merely decks) are not permitted to cover more than 60% of the entire lot. In addition, you’re required to have a certain amount of set-back from the alley so that your carport doesn’t come crashing down if someone driving through the alley hits it.

    • Cross-posted with John

    • Any structure that is four feet above grade (including decks and flights of stairs) count against lot occupancy. Doesn’t matter if it has a roof.

      • Correct. And “grade” is determined by the height of the curb at the front of the property, not the adjacent grade to the proposed addition, deck, porch, etc.

  • Not my place – I was just wondering. (And generally like to play with concepts and mess with the rule-makers.)

  • Consult an architect. They’ll know everything you need to know about these rules, and can help you make sure it’s done right. It’s more complicated than you think.

  • Does “experience” mean “know who to bribe”?

  • Good Afternoon! If you are the owner of the above referenced property, please visit us online at:

    We can serve you through our Homeowners Center. Additionally, you may come to 1100 4th Street SW, 2nd Floor. We are open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 8:30 am – 4:15 pm and Thursday from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm, of call (202) 442-9470.

    All your questions will be answered by our friendly and knowledgeable staff!!

    Heather Vargas, Customer Service Program Manager
    DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
    [email protected]
    (202) 442-8929

    • saf


      How come they (helpful and plesant as they were) couldn’t answer any questions at all for me?

    • Look at that… DCRA monitors Popville. Now if they would only get their act together and implement some of the ideas we recommended a few weeks ago.

  • Cheaper route is to hire a permit expediter, Olivia Akinson ([email protected]) for $500 to get you the permit (or tell you it’s impossible, which would be free), and David Toporia, 202-316-4044 to build it. Tell them Greg sent you. I’ve done a ton of reno work and these 2 are my reliables.

  • I researched the lot occupancy rule when I was considering building a deck in my backyard with a carport underneath. I understand (and agree) with the reasoning behind it…but just walk down any alley and you’ll see that it’s a DCRA code this is constantly being ignored.

    Countless houses with carports and decks that go WAY beyond the 60% rule. Does anyone know anybody that has every actually been fined for these violations…let alone taken down the offending structure!??!

  • so not one of you knows a good contractor apparently

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