The purchase of a home is the biggest investment most people make in their lifetime. To help ensure that you "get what you pay for," make sure that the home has a proper Certificate of Occupancy.
Unless the house was built prior to 1938, obtain a copy of the Certificate of Occupancy (CO), which describes the legal use and occupancy of a property. To obtain a copy of a CO, visit the Department of Buildings in your borough or town.
Buildings constructed prior to 1938 are not required to have a CO. If your house or property was constructed before 1938 and there has been no change in the use or additions to the property, or a change to the ingress or egress of the building, it may not have a CO. If proof is required that no CO exists, the Department of Buildings will provide you with a letter confirming that a CO is not required for the building because it was built before 1938. If you need proof of the legal use of a building that does not have a CO, you must obtain a "Letter of No Objection" from the Department of Buildings where the property is located.
If you are purchasing a property, especially new construction, check to see whether the CO is marked "Final" or "Temporary". A Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) has an expiration date. What this means is that although the house is safe for occupancy, this is a temporary approval that is subject to expiration. If you purchase a home that has a TCO, you should consult an attorney and an architect or engineer to determine the requirements and costs for obtaining a final CO.
Your real estate attorney should obtain a written agreement and sufficient escrow from the seller/developer that will ensure that the seller/developer finishes any outstanding work and gets the permanent or final CO.
Take note of any construction that looks new or different from the rest of the house, such as an addition or deck. Prior to closing, make sure that you get the proper CO from the seller for this work. If you do not, as the new property owner, you will be responsible for legalizing any work that was previously done on the property without the proper permits or that was done in violation of the Building Code. If you purchase a home with outstanding violations, you must correct the illegal conditions even if they were present when you purchased the property. You will also be responsible for paying any outstanding fines or fees in connection with the violations.