Certificate of Occupancy NYC

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Written By Alina Sokirko

If you are thinking about constructing a building in NYC, you will have to obtain what is called a certificate of occupancy. This will verify the intended use of the building and ensure that the property meets all the necessary standards and regulations to protect the safety of the public. Here is a closer look at what a certificate of occupancy is and how to go about getting one.  

What is a Certificate of Occupancy?

A certificate of occupancy (CO) is a legal document that states the use and permitted occupancy for a particular building. This could be a residential building like an apartment complex or condominium building. Or it could be a commercial space such as a restaurant or retail store.

New buildings must obtain a CO before they can be occupied or frequented. Existing buildings must have their CO amended if the use changes due to new construction. It is illegal for a building to be occupied before the owner or developer obtains a CO. If the building is occupied without a CO, it could result in fines or even criminal charges, depending on the severity.

How to Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy in NYC?

To obtain a CO, the owner or developer must submit a request to the New York Department of Buildings. The DOB will then come out to inspect the property and ensure it meets the standards established by the local legislature. In New York, this is called the Building Code and Zoning Resolution, a set of laws that sets the standards for construction in the city.

If you are purchasing a building that already has a CO, you can find it by searching the address in the city’s Building Information System. But if you are planning on making substantial changes to the building’s structure or use, you will have to have the CO amended and go through the same process.

Why Do You Need a Certificate of Occupancy? 

A Certificate of Occupancy is needed for several reasons. For one, it establishes who owns the property and what they intend to do with it. It also verifies that the building is safe and meets all the local zoning laws.

Without a CO, there is no way to tell whether or not a building is properly constructed. This could put potential homeowners or customers of a business at risk if the developer didn’t adhere to the necessary safety standards.

It also verifies that the area in which the building is being constructed is properly zoned for its intended use. Maybe a developer wants to build a commercial store in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The neighborhood may be zoned residential in order to prevent excessive noise, foot traffic, or waste from becoming a hazard to residents in the neighborhood. So if the developer were to apply for a certificate of occupancy and the intended use is not in line with the local zoning, they would be forced to change the use or find a new location.   

Importance of PW1A forms of Obtaining a CO?

A Plan/Work Application, Schedule A (PW1A) form is the document that must be submitted to the Department of Buildings to request a CO. This form is required for any new buildings or alteration applications with the city. All the information entered on this form must be verified as correct in order for the owner to obtain a CO.

The PW1A Form will require the following information on the building:

  • Adherence to building codes
  • Number of dwelling units
  • Fire protection equipment law compliance
  • Live load
  • Number of occupants
  • Who can occupy the building
  • Zoning use groups

The developer should have already filed a New Buildings or Alteration Type 1 application prior to submitting a PW1A form. The information submitted on the PWA1 will be crossed check with these applications to ensure everything is accurate. Any inaccurate information can lead to a rejection of the CO request by the Department of Buildings.

Potential Obstacles to Obtaining a CO

There are several obstacles that can delay a developer from obtaining a CO. One of the most common is inaccuracies with the submission of the PWA1. Even if the developer isn’t trying to lie, any errors or inaccuracies can lead to a dismissal of the PWA1, which can delay the process while the developer reapplies. Something as minor as an inaccurate description of the floors or number of units could result in a dismissal.

Another common obstacle is failing to adhere to local building requirements. If the building does not pass inspection, the DOB will provide the developer with a list of items that must be addressed for the building to be approved for a CO. Common reasons for the NYC DOB to fail an inspection include things like failure to be in compliance with proper requirements for elevators and issues with the plumbing and sprinkler systems. Once those issues are corrected, the owner can request a new inspection.

New York Certificate of Occupancy FAQ

How Long Does it Take to Get a Certificate of Occupancy in NY?

There are two types of COs developers can obtain – temporary certificates of occupancy and full COs. A temporary CO verifies that the building is generally safe but is only valid for a set period of time (typically 90 days from approval). A temporary CO allows occupants to live or frequent the building while construction is being finished and typically takes about 6 months to obtain.

A full CO is valid until the building is altered or the use changes. The amount of time it takes to obtain a CO varies depending on how many issues are discovered during the inspection. But it typically takes about a year or more due to how strict the building requirements are in New York City.  

How Do I Get a Copy of My Certificate of Occupancy in NY?

Once approved, the certificate of occupancy will become available in the Department of Building’s DOB Now database. To download a copy, go to the site’s homepage and do an address search. From the top of the Property Proflie Page select Certificate of Occupancy. If the document has been approved and issued, it will open in a new window. From there, you can select the print button or save it to your computer.

Can You Still Sell a House Without a Certificate of Occupancy in NYC?

Most purchasers require a certificate of occupancy in order to close. But there are certain scenarios where you may not have one. For instance, if you purchased a home built before 1938 when the law requiring COs was first enacted, your property may not have one. If this is the case, you’ll likely have to go through the process of obtaining a new CO before you can close. You may decide to hire an expediter to speed up the process, but you’ll still have to file the necessary paperwork and pass an inspection.

How Do I Change a Certificate of Occupancy in NY?

If you’re planning on making major alterations to a property, you will need to obtain a new CO. To do so, you must hire a registered architect or engineer to submit new plans to the Department of Buildings to review. When the plans are approved, the work can commence.

After the work is finished, you will need to request a new inspection from the DOB to ensure that the new building matches the submitted plans and still meets local building codes. Once the inspection is approved, you can request a new or amended CO.

Which Statement Best Defines a Certificate of Occupancy? 

A certificate of occupancy is a legal document that establishes a building’s use and its adherence to local zoning laws and safety standards. It’s needed in the event of new construction, property conversion, ownership transfer, or alteration by construction. It is issued by the Department of Buildings following an inspection to verify the building is safe for occupancy and meets the necessary zoning protocols.