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Q&A: What is a certificate of occupancy?

Real Estate sign - For Sale

Real Estate sign - For Sale Credit: iStock/Rich H Legg

Q: I was told I need to get a certificate of occupancy before I can sell my house. What exactly is it and how do I obtain it?

A: Every seller is responsible for providing the buyer’s attorney with a certificate of occupancy (commonly know as a C of O). “And any buyer’s attorney worth his salt will demand it,” says William Horan of Horan and Wagner in Commack. This document can be obtained from your town’s building department. It means that the house meets local municipality standards and complies with rules, regulations and building requirements such as fire and electrical codes.

“But let’s say you lived in your house for 30 years, and in year 15 you installed a new deck, dormer, second floor expansion, garage or shed in the backyard,” continues Horan. “While you were supposed to obtain a certificate of completion for any structural add-on, in addition to your certificate of occupancy, you may not have because you didn’t want to pay the extra taxes. If you didn’t get caught by your town, it will catch up to you when you want to sell your house.

Even if you bought your house from your uncle and got a good deal, if he put the deck up by himself and never got the certificate of completion, the burden is now on you to go to building department and obtain the correct permit and inspection. If the deck was built right, you’ll just have to pay a fee ($80-$250) to get the proper certificate. But if it wasn’t built correctly and poses any danger such as a missing railing or unsafe steps, you’ll have to bring the structure up to code and pay for the certificate of completion too."

The attorney for the buyer will know about the missing certificates because through the title company he will request a survey inspection. New and old surveys will be compared to look for any add-on structures.


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