Dear PoPville – Removing a Carport/Garage

Photo by PoPville flickr user D©Bloom

“Dear PoPville,

I bought a house with a “garage” built over the car port. I put that in quotes because the thing looks like a chicken coop and I have no idea how it was ever used as a garage. I was going to wait until I could save up to get a new one built before I tore this one down so that I wouldn’t have to go through getting a garage permit (I heard that was possible). The problem I am having is that I have discovered chairs and blankets in there and a friend has seen people smoking in there (they ran away before we could call the police). So my questions are:

1- Do I need a permit to tear down a non-functioning garage over a car port?
2- Does anyone have any recommendations for anyone who can tear down
and haul away the garage?”

26 Comment

  • a new garage in the city is so valuable because it has to be grandfathered in to be permitted. I’d make sure you’re not eliminating the ability to build one in the future by tearing this one down. you could end up losing a bunch of property value.

  • If I recall correctly, you’ll have to get a permit to build either way, but the process is easier if you’re replacing an existing structure (the size is grandfathered in). I don’t think it matters when exactly you tear it down.
    That said, until you find someone to knock it down, throw the trespassers chairs in the garbage, secure/board up holes if possible and put up a no trespassing sign. No, a sign won’t keep anyone out- but it lets them know you’ve noticed them.

  • this is a stoopid question, i know, but if i’ve never had a garage, is it at all possible to get one built even if my house already maxes out the building to lot ratio?

    what would i have to do?
    not an historic district, btw.

    i would really really like to have a covered work space that i can park in occasionally, with a garden on top of it.

    • I’ve done a bit of research and plan on building a garage later this year. It can be done, but expect a lot of red tape and hoops to jump through.
      First, you have to figure out what your lot occupancy actually is: it ranges from 60-80%. For instance, a row house is usually 60%- single family homes *can* be more. Also, make sure you’ve calculated correctly: if you have a covered front porch/ lawn, you might not actually own it. Only a fraction of my porch counts against my lot occupancy. Technically, the small landing to my rear stairs counts against my LO. Will I include it? Hells no. You can appeal for relief from the lot occupancy rule in certain circumstances. We plan to do this to get a few extra feet so our garage goes the width of our yard instead of leaving a useless 1′ gap between the garage and fence.

      • thanks for the response. i’m pretty certain i would have to get an exception. probably just a pipe dream for me.

        i’d love for you to keep us updated on your progress.

  • On a related note, I have a garage that doesn’t span the whole width of my backyard. It barely fits my car, and there’s no way the driver and passenger could open the door at the same time! Since I already have a garage, can I expand it across the rest of my backyard? There’s a good 10 feet or so of space into which it could be widened.

  • Out of pure curiosity, does anyone know if it’s possible to build up from an existing garage, based on the structure being grandfathered in? You know, add a floor to put an office, studio, or maybe even a tiny apartment?

    • greenroofgoddess

      It is, but the height at which you can build up is dependant on the zoning where the garage is located. In many place around the city, it is limited to 15 feet total height from the ground up, so that can make it tough for car space and “loft space”–esp. one that is of sufficient height for legal occupancy.

  • From every conversation I’ve ever had on the subject do not remove your garage. As someone above said replace or “Repair” it or you could loose it forever.

    Does anyone know why the city is so anti-garage?

    • ah

      I don’t think it’s anti-garage so much as anti-too-much-lot-occupancy.

    • It’s because of WWII and all the homeowners renting out their garages to the influx of workers, creating nasty, unsanitary shanty towns in the allies.

  • saf

    You know, zoning told me that I couldn’t have a carport but could build a garage as a matter of right.

    Talk to a contractor/permit firm before you do anything, because I do not think the people above are entirely correct.

  • Be careful – the two houses on our block that have recently taken away their garages have become targets for break-ins, since it leaves open access to the backdoor from the alley.

  • go look at your plat in the zoning office before you do anything. if you see your garage on zoning office’s survey plat for you, then you are golden. you tear it down and rebuild later because as far as the city is concerned nothing changed.

    if no garage, then your current one is illegal. you don’t need a permit but will have trouble finding a dump to take what your removing.

    • I’m not so sure about this, but I may be wrong. When I bought my house, the roof was already collapsed on the garage. I had to prove that the structure was still substantially still there so I could rebuild it. It wasn’t hard to do, since all the walls were brick. But still, if I had ripped the whole thing down, it sounded like I may not have been able to rebuild.

    • Yup- that clarifies what I meant. If your garage is already on their books, that’s what counts. If not, then don’t tear it down – you’ll want to “repair” and existing structure.

      • ah

        That assumes you’re doing unpermitted work. If you seek a permit to repair an unpermitted garage then you’re going to run into the same hurdles.

    • Is this something that can be seen online or do I actually have to go to the zoning office?

  • Thanks to PoP for this posting.

    First off, a person needs a building permit before doing any demolition, renovation, or new construction of a garage or carport.

    Second, the rules governing the building or rebuilding of a garage depend on the zoning district in which the property is located.

    The Zoning Regulations govern issues of lot occupancy maximums (you can find those in DC Municipal Regulations Title 11, Chapter 4:, as well as setbacks for garages and carports (those are in DC Municipal Regulations Title 11, Chapter 23:

    Properties located in historic districts may require an additional review by the Historic Preservation Office before any building permit may be issued.

    Generally, if rebuilding an existing garage, a person can rebuild it to the same specifications as the existing garage. If the existing garage is over the lot occupancy provisions, the person should carefully document the existing garage’s specifications before applying for a building permit.

    In choosing a contractor to do the construction work, you should always make sure the contractor is licensed to do business in the District and that the contractor pulls, shows you, and posts all the required building permits.

    We’ve had numerous cases where construction work was done without a permit, our inspectors issue substantial fines to the property owner, and the owner is ordered to demolish the garage.

    So please save yourself much time and trouble, and make sure your contractor gets the required building permits; if the contractor doesn’t, it’s you the property owner that will be held responsible for any building or zoning codes violations.


  • Its my understanding that the purpose behind the 60-80% lot occupancy rule is to limit impermeable structures. With DC having a commbined sewar-stormwater system, the more rainfall that can go into the ground is better for the system. An additional structure just causes more stormwater flow.

    Having said that, I would hope that DCRA would have provisions for relief from that if a green roof or something similar would be installed. Eventually, DCRA is going to have to change that. 60% is just too little for an urban area.

    • If the point is to limit impermeable surface, the rules aren’t set up very well to do that.

      I’ve been looking at houses, and have seen a lot of places that have paved half of the backyard so it can be used as a parking pad. That pavement is just as impermeable as a garage roof, so it’s not any better for runoff than a garage is (and it’s much worse than a garage with a green roof). But since the house is already taking up 60% of the lot, I bet it wouldn’t be legal to replace the parking pad with a garage.

    • it frustrates me a lot. i would like to maximize my lot, build up, put a garden on my roof, have a deck, etc.. and i care tremendously about run off and sewer backups. rain barrels, gardens can collect tons of water. besides, my backyard is already a concrete pad, why not a building with gutters to collect the rain fall.

    • Eric:

      Lot occupancy is related to issues of density (based on the zoning district), not permeability. DDOE and DC Water have requirements dealing with stormwater runoff management, but that’s not related to the zoning regulations requirements on maximum lot occupancy and setbacks.

      Additionally, the zoning regulations are promulgated by the DC Zoning Commission. DCRA’s zoning office simply interprets the zoning regulations for purposes of issuing building permits. But DCRA doesn’t control or amend the zoning regulations; that’s done through the Office of Planning (OP).

      And OP has been working for the past few years on a major overhaul of the current, decades-old zoning regulations. For information on the zoning regulations re-write, see:


      • Helder – can a person when making an appt with your office specfically request one with you? otherwords, when i call can i say i want to discuss my backyard conversion to a carport with Helder?


  • So I looked at the zoning map and it looks like the garage is on there and I am not in a historic district. So it sounds like to tear it down I need to get a permit but if I do it now can I put another garage up later since there is already a garage on the zoning map?

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