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Why Certificates of Occupancy Are Important

A certificate of occupancy is issued by a government agency or a building department. The purpose is to certify that a building is in compliance with building codes and that it is suitable for occupancy. It is issued by local government agencies and the process of certification varies based on the rules of the issuing agency. The certificate of occupancy is essential for a building to become operational – without a valid certificate, a building cannot be occupied.

When is a certificate of occupancy required?

A certificate of occupancy is generally required when one of three things happens:

  1. A new building is constructed.
  2. A property is converted to a new use, such as from residential to commercial.
  3. Ownership of a multi-family, commercial, or industrial property changes.

In some towns and areas, certificates of occupancy may be required for other instances. For example, some towns require this in cases of major construction that has the potential to change the occupancy of a property or the exit pattern of a building.

What does a certificate of occupancy state?

At a minimum, a certificate of occupancy will generally state:

  • The use of the structure. It will describe what class of property it is, such as residential, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use, among others.
  • The suitability of the structure. It will stand as proof that a property is in compliance with standards and codes as required for occupancy.
  • The compliance with building codes. The building must also conform with various housing and building codes.

A note about New York City certificates of occupancy

New York City is unique in its use of certificates of occupancy. In order for a property owner to obtain one, the structure must be pass a series of inspections, which can include:

  • Plumbing inspections
  • Fire pump pressure tests
  • Elevator inspections
  • Fire sprinkler system inspections
  • Electrical inspections
  • Architectural inspections
  • And others

The final step in the process is for a member of the Department of Buildings to do a walk-through of the property. They will verify that there is no remaining major construction to be done, that the entrances are free and clear, and that there are no visible safety hazards.

Why is a certificate of occupancy so important?

Put simply, if a building does not have a valid certificate of occupancy then it cannot be legally occupied. If a building owner rents or leases the building, then they would have no legal ability to collect rent without a valid certificate of occupancy. If the building is owner occupied, then they could be issued a vacate order at any time if they do not have a valid certificate of occupancy.

PropertyShark allows you to seamlessly research certificates of occupancy for all New York properties. Simply search for you your targeted address, click the General tab and scroll down to the Overview section. Once there, click the Certificate of Occupancy prompt within the Use category.

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss

Eliza Theiss is a senior writer reporting real estate trends in the US. Her work has been cited by CBS News, Curbed, The Los Angeles Times, and Forbes among others. With an academic background in journalism, Eliza has been covering real estate since 2012. Before joining PropertyShark, Eliza was an associate editor at Multi-Housing News and Commercial Property Executive. Eliza also writes for CommercialEdge. Reach her at [email protected]

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