From the Forum – Are new Carports & Garages really not allowed in any neighborhoods in DC at all?

by Prince Of Petworth December 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm 24 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user eakidwell

Are new Carports & Garages really not allowed in any neighborhoods in DC at all?

“Hello, We are new/newly returning to the area and have just started house hunting. In DC thus far we are exploring the takoma/brightwood/brokland/woodridge/riggs. We currently rent in Takoma DC and really enjoy the area. We are also looking in the close in downtown areas of Silver Spring & Takoma Park, MD. However, we would prefer to be in DC. But some of the housing/building information we are learning about DC is concerning.

I should note we are only looking at detached single family homes typically with lot sizes 4,000+. Many have a parking pad in front or rear off of a alley way. Some have a drive way running along the side from front to back. Most of the homes with parking off of the alley way look as if they may have had a garage at one time.

We were told by a Realtor that it is ‘impossible’ to build a new garage or covered parking structure any place in DC!?!?!?!?? This struck us as very odd that across a whole city no one could build anything new.
I have tried to look information up on DC.gov but can not find a clear answer. I’m not sure what information I need about a property to figure out what rules or zoning applies. It also seems that some rules have changed recently or are up for a vote to be changed?!?!?

So, anyone have any clear or helpful information? Is it really true no new car ports or garages Xn be built? What about types of driveways/parking pads (concert, gravel, stone pavers) )? Where do I start to navigate the DC building codes/zones???

Is getting other work done a issue major issue?

Either way we don’t want to buy a home thinking we can change this or that and then find out it is not legally possible!”

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  • brookland_rez

    My understanding is that DC laws says structures on your lot cannot consume more than 40% of the land. If you want to build a garage and it is under this limit, you should be able to get a permit and do it. If it consumes more than 40% you have to file an appeal the Board of Zoning and Appeals (BZA), which I’ve heard is really strict about the 40% rule.

    • Anon

      Maximum lot occupancy is determined by whatever zone you’re in. It may be 40% in some, but not in others. Also, ancillary buildings such as garages are allowed in certain zones, so OP’s realtor doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.

      • brookland_rez

        Ah ok. I looked into it like 5 years ago when I bought my house, that must be what it was for where I’m at in Brookland.

  • anonymous

    I’m not sure of the regs but live in the 16th Street Heights/Brightwood area and have seen several neighbors construct garages or car ports over their parking pads. (Where there was likely a garage in the past).

  • hma

    This is NOT true, you can absolutely build a garage or carport in DC.

    BUT, it’s difficult. The biggest issue is the land occupancy, most neighborhoods only allow a 60% lot coverage. Houses generally cover a good portion of that, so can the footprint of the land and make sure you can build up the 60%.

    There are other rules, like the distance of the door from the center of the alley.

    More info here:


    • ah

      All true. I built a garage on property in DC in the last few years.

      But, yes, it has to comply with regulations, and on smaller plots of land that can present real challenges to meet the rules and to have a useable garage.

      The reason many garages have been removed is that the original ones often are too small for modern cars, and were poorly built and in decay.

  • Ed

    We live in Columbia Heights and had no trouble getting a permit to demolish the concrete behind our townhouse and replace it with a new slab and an overhead door (one of the commercial type roll up steel models) to enclose the back yard and a two car space. We did not ask to cover the structure with any sort of roof, so perhaps this didn’t constitute a “carport”, but it works beautifully and is the best 11 grand we’ve spent since we no longer worry about street parking. Inspection of the electrical connection for the door and the structure itself was fast and without complications. I don’t see why you couldn’t get information about this from the permits office before you make an offer on a house.

  • Anonymous

    Never rely on a realtor for advice on what you can and can’t do with property you buy. It may be well-intentioned but they’re in the business of buying and selling houses, not interpreting building codes and zoning.

    • Anonymous

      Yes- trust anonymous internet posters instead :)

      • ah

        Anonymous posters who are pointing to regulations that you can look at yourself probably are a decent source.

  • Anonymous

    If there was an old structure on the property it will be easier. If you are proposing a new covered structure, it will be difficult. Not impossible, but difficult under the regs already mentioned. It would be worth seeing if there *ever* was a garage, even if it’s is currently only recognizable by the remains of it’s footprint (you may have to dig into the archives to find proof one was constructed in the past). Not sure what constitutes a replacement vs. brand new

    • ah

      Not necessarily. If the old structure has been razed then there’s no right to replace it.

      • 20011

        I haven’t looked into this much, however, we bought a house with a very odd garage structure and when we were talking with our realtor and other DC residents we were told that we would basically have to replace the existing structure piece by piece because if we tore it down we’d never get the permits to build it again.

      • textdoc

        I had heard that there was a much better chance of getting a permit to build a garage/carport if you could show (through old records) that there had once been a garage or carport on that site.

    • Elock821

      I recently had my garage rebuilt and I didn’t have a problem because as Anonymous 2:41pm stated it’s easier when you are replacing the structure no matter how bad the structure and my garage was in pretty bad shape.

  • Anonymous

    People construct garages all the time… Separate garages are commonplace in DC and always have been. Go forward with obtaining permits and see what happens.

    • Doc

      I think the OP’s point was that they didn’t want to buy a property than then find that they couldn’t build a garage. There are DEFINITELY properties on which you could NOT get permits to build a garage and they want to figure this out prior to making an offer on a property.

      If you already own a property you could certainly “just try to get a permit and see what happens” but that’s not terribly useful advice in this case.

  • Doc

    In additon to the % cover, there is also the set back issue. There needs to be a certain distance between any structure and the adjoining property lines. This differs on the side and front/rear of a property, and also varies with zoning of an individual property. In many areas of the city, this will be prohibitive.

    However, if you are replacing an existing structure, you can get this grandfathered in.

    I just replaced an existing garage. Permits took forever, construction took way longer than it should have and project price was $30K.

    • Anon

      I just looked at this recently, as a friend’s neighbor was building a garage right on the property line. Apparently the setback rules don’t apply to garages that abut an alley. Go figure.

  • Trinidaddy

    Find a new realtor. This is absolutely false. It’s tough to get a permit for one but it can be done.

  • Jay

    Sounds to me like a realtor who doesn’t want to deal with the extra legwork of figuring out if you can build a garage on new properties. Unfortunately I think you need to dump your realtor for someone who’s happy to work with you on this.


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