Defining Certificate of Occupancy

When looking for a new property to purchase, one of many questions to be answered is: Is the building safe? A certificate of occupancy answers that question for you, although obtaining one may not be easy.

What is a Certificate of Occupancy

A certificate of occupancy is a legal document that indicates that a building is safe and up to code. First, inspections and any fixes that need to be made to the building need to be completed. Then, the owner of the property must submit documentation to receive their certificate. 

There are certain conditions under which a certificate of occupancy is needed. Unfortunately, those conditions vary depending on the municipality your property is located. However, there are a few instances that tend to be universal for requiring one. 

Building a new building or making major renovations to a currently standing building are instances in which a certificate of occupancy is required. Changing the building type (i.e., converting a single-family home into a multi-family building) will almost certainly require a certificate of occupancy. A less common instance is when the building changes ownership. This varies based on local laws—so a quick Google search could save you a lot of trouble.

What is Required for a Certificate of Occupancy?

First, when getting a certificate of occupancy, understand what documents you will need to provide. This varies depending on where you live but most municipalities will list the required documents on their website. 

Next, you must have an inspection. Typically, an inspector from the local government will be sent out to examine all aspects of the property and to ensure everything is up to code. If they are, then there is no problem; if they aren’t, then you must make repairs. However, if you are constructing a new property, building with codes in mind can save you from spending more later down the road. Generally, building codes can vary from state to state. However, there are some universal requirements which are listed here.

Once all issues—if there were any—are fixed, the municipality will grant you a certificate of occupancy. After they grant you your certificate, it is important to maintain the building. You can still be liable for any code violations found that occur after the certificate is granted. A quick inspection such as this one can save a lot of trouble down the road.

What is a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy?

Should you have some issues that are considered minor and not relevant to immediate safety, you may be granted a temporary certificate of occupancy. Usually, this comes down to the judgment of the inspector on whether or not to grant this. 

If you do obtain a temporary one, you have until the expiration of the certificate to make any necessary changes. If changes are made in time, a true certificate of occupancy will be issued and the price of the temporary certificate may be partially refunded. 


A certificate of occupancy may not be the most glamorous or interesting part of owning a property, but it is a very important and necessary one. However, before you go through the hassle of obtaining a certificate of occupancy, check if you need one first. A few minutes of research may save you quite a bit of time and money.