A Certificate of Occupancy (CO) (also referred to as a Certificate of Completion—CC) is the legal document describing a building’s use and/or the type of occupancy permitted in a building. Before a CO is issued, you have to apply to the local municipality for a permit to build or make structural improvements. The CO is the municipality’s way to approve the construction so long as it was built in accordance with the approved plans and conforms with the local building codes. Most purchasers will require that a CO for the property be issued before a closing will take place.
All new buildings in New York must have a Certificate of Occupancy, and owners of all existing buildings must secure a current or amended Certificate of Occupancy if there is a change in use, type of occupancy or structural improvements. Buildings constructed prior to 1938 might not have a Certificate of Occupancy because the local municipality may not have issued them at all at that time.
For new construction, generally, you may not occupy a building unless it has a Certificate of Occupancy. Temporary certificates are sometimes granted if there are changes being made within a building or if most of the construction has been approved by the municipality and relatively minor additions need to be made.
When making structural improvements to existing homes, (like a deck, a dormer, a pool, garage conversion, extension or even a fence) the final product is checked to ensure that it matches the plans submitted and then the final certificate is issued. Those who are planning a closing on a real estate purchase are encouraged to schedule the date based on the final Certificate of Occupancy, not the one issued on a temporary basis.
Verifying a Certificate of Occupancy
In New York City it’s possible to verify a Certificate of Occupancy online at the website for the NYC Department of Buildings.; To do so, you need to input the building’s exact address into the property search tool and view the PDF file of the certificate. Title companies will also check local municipal building departments and obtain copies of all permits and COs. If there’s an open permit (meaning the project was never finally inspected and a CO wasn’t issued) it could delay a closing. Sometimes a project needs a variance–approval of a structure that doesn’t conform with the code. This could happen because the project is bigger or takes up more space on a lot than what the code ordinarily permits. Obtaining variances can take a long time and could be opposed by neighbors near the property. These could create additional delays for a closing.
An attorney can help you obtain written assurance and sufficient escrow that ensures the work is completed and the COs are received in a timely manner. The owner of the property is legally obligated to ensure the building has a final certificate documenting its compliance with Building Code and the Zoning Resolution.
If you would like more information about Certificates of Occupancy or you need assistance finding or securing one, contact the Law Offices of Elan Wurtzel by calling 516.822.7866.