Your local building-inspection department will give you a certificate of occupancy after your building passes its final inspection. It's an official statement that your building is fit for people to occupy. In many jurisdictions, if you can't obtain a certificate, it will be illegal for you to sell the building. Even if it isn't, it may be hard to find a buyer.
Certificate of Occupancy
In most jurisdictions the certificate of occupancy comes after your structure -- whether it's a home, an office building or a shopping mall -- has undergone multiple building inspections during construction. To get a certificate, you may also have to show that your building confirms to the zoning code. Some cities and counties will require you to reapply for a certificate of occupancy if you adopt your building to a new use or the occupants of a rental property vacate it.
The legal barriers to selling without a certificate of occupancy vary between jurisdictions. If your property is new construction, you may not be able to sell it at all without a certificate, but some jurisdictions make an exception for single-family homes. Even if it's legal to dispense with the certificate, the buyer's mortgage lender may refuse to finance the purchase if it isn't sure that your building has passed all the inspections.
Building inspectors look to see if your building conforms to the plans you submitted to city hall and if it meets the building code. If the inspector doesn't think you qualify for a certificate, she should be able to tell you what repairs or fixes you'll have to make to earn your certificate. If your building complies with the rules but you didn't obtain all the permits you need, the inspector may also require you to apply and take out the permits before you get your certificate.
Even if you receive your certificate of occupancy, you may have to meet other inspection requirements before you can sell. In most New Jersey cities, for instance, you can't sell unless the fire inspector approves the number and placement of smoke detectors in your house. Whatever requirements you face, you should schedule the inspections well in advance of closing on the house. If you wait to the last minute and run into problems you have to fix, it could cost you the sale.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.