The New York City Department of Buildings recommends that you not close until you have obtained a permanent Certificate of Occupancy (CO). However, individual buildings continuously keep receiving Temporary Certificates of Occupancy (TCO) when the old one expires. Buildings built before 1938 are grandfathered and do not need a CO unless changes to the use, egress, or occupancy. Even in this case, the building requires a Letter of No Objection, which shows it complies.
Purchasing a building without a permanent CO contains specific risks, and you should understand what these entail.
What is a Certificate of Occupancy?What is a Certificate of Occupancy?
A building cannot have any occupants until the Department of Buildings issues either a CO or TCO. A CO states a building’s legal use and the type of permitted occupancy. This is required for new construction. An existing building must amend its CO when there is a change in use, exit, or occupancy type.
There are a host of things a building must pass before a CO is given. This includes construction, plumbing, electrical inspections, approval for the elevator, the building survey, and making sure there are no open permits or violations. The Department of Buildings will issue a final CO once the work is completed and matches the submitted application. There are many city building codes and zoning requirements. The CO means the work complies with the law with proper paperwork submitted, and fees have been paid. If any violations have been issued, these must be resolved before a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) being issued.
You can check a property’s existing or pending CO by using the Buildings Information System website.
What is a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy?What is a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy?
If the Department of Buildings determines the building is safe but feels some issues need addressing, the department issues a temporary occupancy certificate. These expire 90 days after issuance. However, the application can be renewed.
Proceed With Caution.Proceed With Caution.
Proceed with caution even when a temporary certificate of occupancy has been issued. New York City “strongly recommends” that you negotiate your closing based on the building receiving a final CO. The city further urges you to ask an engineer or architect to find out what work remains. This also applies to co-ops and condos.
In a new building, the sponsor may try to have you close on your unit quickly. Legally, the sponsor can close the deal within 30 days after receiving the TCO, and the state needs to declare the offering plan effective.
Once you buy the unit, you are now responsible for obtaining the final CO. If you are anxious to move in; you can protect yourself by putting in the contract that the developer is responsible for finishing the work and obtaining the CO. You can ask the seller to put money aside in an escrow fund to cover the expenses in an existing unit.
If the TCO expires and is not renewed, it isn’t easy to obtain homeowner insurance. In addition, you will have problems if you want to refinance your mortgage or when it is time to sell.