Certificate of Occupancy NYC Guide

By PropertyClub Team
Aug 9th 2023
A Certificate of Occupancy, also abbreviated to C of O or CO, is a real estate document used by the Department of Buildings to indicate a building’s legal use as well as the type of permitted occupancy. For example, a CO will state whether a building is a residential, commercial, or mixed-use property. A certificate of occupancy will also indicate the number of residences or units that are allowed in the building.

A certificate of occupancy verifies that the property complies with all relevant building codes and is safe for occupancy. If a property doesn’t have the proper C of O, the city can always issue a “Vacate Order.” As such, it’s essential that you understand what a certificate is when you are buying, renting, or renovating a property in NYC.

hash-markHow Do You Get a Certificate of Occupancy in NYC?

In NYC, certificates of occupancy are issued by the Department of Buildings (DOB) after a number of inspections take place and all construction is completed. To get a CO, all building permits will need to be closed, and a final inspection will need to occur. Once the inspector has verified the construction is complete, and the building is safe, the CO will be issued. 

It typically takes between 6 to 12 months to get a certificate of occupancy in NYC, although it can take much longer if there are delays. 

hash-markWhat If Your Building Has an I-Card Instead?

New York City did not require Certificates of Occupancy until 1938. As such, some buildings built before 1938 do not have one. If this is the case, then an I-Card is usually accepted as the legal record of existing occupancy.

However, buildings with I-Cards may need to be issued a C of O, if any lawful alteration or conversion work was performed in the building after the last date listed on the I-Card.

hash-markWhat If Your Building Doesn’t Have an I-Card or CO?

If you are a renter in a building that doesn’t have a CO, this means that your landlord is not permitted to collect rent from you. As such, the landlord will be unable to sue you in housing court in the event you stop paying your rent. However, a landlord may still evict you in what’s called a holdover proceeding.

If you’re buying an apartment, you will need at least a temporary C of O to start the financing process. However, many lenders expect to have the final C of O issued prior to approving financing. However, if the building is new construction, don’t be surprised if the date for obtaining a final C of O keeps changing.

hash-markDo You Have To Update Your CO When You Renovate?

If you’re undergoing substantial renovations or purchasing a property you intend to renovate, you probably need to update the C of O and obtain the proper permits to complete the desired work.

Any renovation or alteration that creates a change in the number of rooms, or a change in the legal use of the building will require a permit. (e.g., a two-family that turns into a three-family by adding a basement apartment). 

A qualified architect or engineer can review your renovation plans to flag any potential issues and inform you when an updated C of O will be required for your project.

hash-markWhat If I’m Purchasing An “as-is” or Bank-owned Property?

When a property owner is selling a home as-is, you will typically be responsible for correcting any C of O problems that exist and/or are discovered. As such, it’s essential to review your purchase agreement, to determine the scope and cost associated with purchasing the property, especially if C of O problems are discovered.

hash-markNYC Certificate of Occupancy For Co-ops vs. Condos

Unlike units in condos, individual apartments in co-op buildings are not issued C of Os. In a co-op building, there’s one C of O for the entire building. This means that if there’s a problem with the C of O, it remains up to the Co-op Board to correct those issues.

When purchasing a condo (or any other type a building except a co-op), C of O problems are usually spotted on the title report. If issues are discovered, you should first figure out if the issues are fixable by hiring an architect and an experienced expeditor. While an expeditor can help to speed up the otherwise notoriously lengthy paperwork process dramatically, you can still expect the process to take anywhere from 3 months to years, depending on the type of building as well as the renovations involved.

hash-markCan a Landlord Collect Rent Without a Certificate of Occupancy?

Generally speaking, no, a landlord is not entitled to collect rent without a certificate of occupancy. This means that tenants have a right to withhold rent if they find out they’ve rented an illegal apartment. That being said, if the property has a CO violation, the landlord may be entitled to collect rent depending on the circumstances, specifically if the Certificate of Occupancy violation is not due to potentially dangerous conditions in the property. 

hash-markPenalty For No Certificate of Occupancy

There are severe penalties for not having a certificate of occupancy in NYC. If the city finds that a landlord has illegally rented an apartment in a building without a certificate of occupancy, they may issue an order to vacate. A DOB violation and other fines may also be issued to the landlord.

hash-markWhat Is a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy?

A Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (also known as a TCO) is similar to a CO in that it grants the same rights as a CO, but only temporarily. TCO’s are issued when a building or part of a building is safe to inhabit, but the building, for whatever reason, has outstanding work or permits to obtain before the city can issue a permanent C of O. Temporary C of Os are typically issued for 90 days at a time. 

hash-markNYC Certificate of Occupancy Bottom Line

A NYC certificate of occupancy is an incredibly important document that property owners need to be familiar with. This piece of paper, which is at times taken for granted, could be the difference between a tenant paying rent or an investor or real estate developer obtaining financing to purchase a building. As such, knowing how to get a certificate of occupancy in NYC is essential if you're performing renovations or new construction in the city.