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Tuesday, July 16 2024

Certificate of occupancy

notice of violation

memorializes what the building was designed to be used as. It gives information on use and egress, loads and occupancies of each floor. It is basically a birth certificate of the building





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Certificate of occupancy in many places has to be reapplied for with every new owner. In NYC the certificate of occupancy once issued is usually not recalled. If one wants to change a certificate of occupancy it is possible but not easily done.

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Our DICTIONARY > Certificate of occupancy

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So, you must get yourself a Certificate of Occupancy (CO)…. First, let me tell you what this CO is. A certificate of occupancy is a legal document that shows the use, occupancy, and several other attributes of a building in words. In other words, it is like a birth certificate for a building. This document allows a layperson to understand what the structure is and how it should be used. It is also a seal of approval by the municipality that the building meets the minimum standard of safety at the time it was built.

Today most buildings in NYC have a certificate of occupancy but this was not always true. Up until the mid-1800s occupancy rules were almost non-existent and so cities became nests of filth and disease. Building construction was primarily directed by rules minimizing the spread of fire. By about 1850 health and occupancy rules had found their way into the city charter. Finally, in 1899, NYC first introduced the concept of occupancy in the building code. This idea was soon after fortified in 1902 by a certificate of compliance requirement set in the tenement law. These small changes in building codes started transforming the building industry and so in 1916, a new revision of the building codes brought forth the first requirement of a certificate of occupancy. By 1938 the requirement for CO was solidified for any new building built. Since that time there have been two more major changes to COs. The first happened in 1961 when zoning was introduced, and COs changed their look and in 2022 COs became living documents in DOBNOWBUILD.

Today the CO has become a blunt instrument of enforcement. If you do not possess it, you cannot use the building. If you use your building in a manner other than the CO permits you can be fined, or your CO can be revoked. Multiple City and state agencies may or may not allow you their licenses depending on the CO of your building. A delay in receiving a CO can cost thousands of dollars and make or break deals.

So how does one get this coveted document? The short answer is… It depends. Are you in an existing building? If so, when was the building built? Has the building been built legally? Were there major changes made to your building or are you just starting to build a building?

Most people reading this probably just need a copy of a CO for a currently existing legal building built after 1938 so they can provide it to the entity that is asking them for it. These people just must go to their local Department of Buildings office and pay a small fee to get a copy. Nothing to it.

The next batch of people is probably those who received some sort of violation that relates to a certificate of occupancy. These people probably are using their building in a way contrary to the Certificate of occupancy. This means that maybe someone is working on cars from their residential garage or that maybe someone changed their private house into a multiple dwelling without going through the proper process. These people need to “legalize their building” by either getting a new CO or returning their building to its original use. This is a much lengthier and costlier process that requires the use of licensed professionals.

Those who want to build a new building or make a major alteration to their existing building have the highest standard to reach. As building codes change over a 4-year cycle the minimum standard is always being pushed upwards. A building of yesterday would probably not attain today’s CO. Just like in the previous case the Owner will have to attain the help of licensed professionals to get this precious document.

For those of you who live in a building built before 1938, there is a good chance that your building does not yet possess CO. And that is OK. These buildings can attain a “letter of no objection” where the Department of Buildings will review records and issue a statement saying that the building may be used for such a use as it was designed and built for. No licensed professionals are needed for this review.

Should you want further information on any of this please contact us at 718 326 8653 or