A Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is a document issued by the New York City Building Department (DOB) which states a building’s legal occupancy limits, type of permitted occupancy and allowable use of the building (ex. Commercial retail store, industrial warehouse, 1 to 4 residential home, 50 unit condominium). New buildings must have a CO, and existing buildings must have a current or amended CO when construction will change their use, egress or type of occupancy. If a building doesn’t have a proper Certificate of Occupancy, the DOB could theoretically issue a vacate order and related violations at any time.
No one may legally occupy a building until the DOB has issued a CO or Temporary Certificate of Occupancy. If an owner submits plans for new buildings or major alterations, the DOB issues a final Certificate of Occupancy when the completed work matches the submitted plans. A building’s CO can be viewed by anyone on the DOB website.
There are a few common scenarios in which buyers might run into CO issues. The first is with houses, which may have been renovated and include more living spaces (for instance, a single-family turned into a two-family), but did not obtain the appropriate approval from DOB. Another common scenario are properties that added a deck to the back of the house or converted a basement into a living area and never received DOB approval.
What to do if there is no CO? In more serious cases, the owner would need to retain an architect to draw plans reflecting the current layout of the property and file for a building permit, complete any work to code and obtain a sign-off and obtain a CO from the DOB. This can take a substantial amount of time and cost quite a bit of money.
There is an exception to the CO requirement. Buildings built before 1938 were not required to have a CO unless later alterations changed its use, egress, exits or occupancy. You may find out the year your building was constructed by checking on the DOB website. If you require proof of a building’s legal use, and it is exempt from the CO requirement, you may need to contact the borough office where the property is located to request a Letter of No Objection (LNO). An LNO may be issued if the proposed or actual use of the building complies with New York City Building Codes and Zoning Resolutions, and the occupancy load and exits of the building are unchanged.
However, once you change the use of the Building, a new CO must be issued.
In some circumstances the DOB may determine that a property is safe to occupy, but there are outstanding issues that must be resolved before the DOB can issue a final CO. The DOB may issue a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) in the short term (typically 90 days) for a building that still has outstanding work or permits before it can get an official CO, but is safe to inhabit. We strongly recommend that you negotiate a closing based on a final Certificate of Occupancy, not a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy.