Home Buyers Guide: What Is A Certificate Of Occupancy (Co)?

Learn what a certificate of occupancy is, and when one is required.

A certificate of occupancy is a document authorizing occupancy and use of a building. When any new construction or modification of an existing structure that requires a building permit has been completed, a final inspection of the building is done. Upon approval of the inspection, the building inspector, allowing the owner or tenant to take residence, will issue a certificate of occupancy.

Here are some examples of when a certificate of occupancy needs to be issued

* When a residential newly constructed home has been completed and complies with municipal building codes.

* When a restaurant expands occupancy.

* When a multi-family home is converted to a single family home.

* When an owner of a building has zoning of the premises changed. (Authorized use of a piece of real estate for business purposes)

* Extensive remodeling projects which include changes to the plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling.

Who is responsible for getting the certificate of occupancy?

Once the building plans are drawn up, the contractor will apply for a building permit at the public works and building planning office located at your local municipal building in which the property is located. Upon approval of the plans, the building permit is issued. The fee for the permit is based on square footage of the structure. Depending on the municipality, additional permits may be needed for electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, however only one certificate of occupancy will be issued. Inspectors from the municipal building department come in stages to inspect the work that has been done and report the approval back to the building department. Once all the work has been done and construction completed, a final inspection is done of the premises. If the work has been done correctly and there are no building code violations, a certificate of occupancy will be issued to the contractor.

Is a certificate of occupancy always required before taking residence in the home?

A certificate of occupancy is not required before residing in a newly purchased home where no major alterations requiring a building permit have been done. Under certain circumstances a partial certificate of occupancy may be issued. Examples of unavoidable delays would be weather conditions or being unable to meet a certain deadline. However, the property must be in a safe and useable condition. The partial certificate is only a temporary one. Depending on the type of work, the partial certificate may be valid for only 30 to 90 days to allow the contractor enough time complete the work.

Does issuance of the certificate of occupancy always mean the residence is in usable condition?

The certificate should not be issued if the property violates any building codes, and is not in usable condition. However, some inspectors may authorize issuance of the certificate of occupancy when the work has not been completed, with the understanding that the contractor will finish the work. This is when the property is very close to completion and is in useable condition and the work needing to be completed is minor.

Can the certificate of occupancy be revoked?

The building official does have the authority to revoke a certificate of occupancy when issued in error or when false or misleading information is given in order to obtain occupancy of the premises.

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