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What Is an Occupancy Permit?

By Leigia Rosales
Updated May 16, 2024
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Within the United States, as well as many other countries, an occupancy permit, or certificate of occupancy, is often required prior to a building or structure being inhabited. The agency or government office that is responsible for issuing an occupancy permit will vary by jurisdiction. Regardless of who is responsible for approving and issuing the permit, an occupancy permit is only issued after the proper authorities have inspected the structure and confirmed that it complies with all applicable building codes and is safe for occupancy.

When a new structure is built within the United States, an occupancy permit is always required prior to allowing anyone to inhabit the structure. Application for the permit is usually made to the appropriate local building authority, upon which a thorough inspection of the structure is completed. The inspection generally checks to make sure that the structure meets all applicable building codes and that basic things such as electrical and plumbing systems are in place and operating properly.

When a building changes its intended use is another situation in which an occupancy permit is typically required. For example, if a house is converted into office space, then a permit will be required stating that the building is fit for its new intended purpose. The reason behind this requirement is that commercial space often requires commercial heating or cooling systems or other modifications that must meet local building codes.

In the United States, when a commercial or industrial building changes ownership, a new occupancy permit must be issued to the new owners. The same applies to apartment buildings or other multi-family structures. A new permit is generally required as a safeguard to make sure that properties where the pubic frequent are safely maintained and kept up to code.

It is important to understand that an occupancy permit is not a guarantee that everything is in proper working order within the structure. A certificate of occupancy should not take the place of a proper certified inspection prior to occupancy. An building inspector who inspects a structure for an occupancy certificate is only checking for violations of the building code and major structural systems, such as electric or plumbing. For a new owner, a proper home or building inspection should also be done by a certified or licensed inspector to assure the new owner that all the small details are also in working order in the building or home.

FAQ on Occupancy Permit

What is an occupancy permit and when is it required?

An occupancy permit, also known as a certificate of occupancy, is a document issued by a local government agency or building department certifying a building's compliance with applicable building codes and other laws, and indicating it to be in a condition suitable for occupancy. This permit is typically required after the construction of a new building, or when a building has undergone significant renovations or a change in its use. The permit ensures that the building is safe and meets the standards for human occupancy.

How do I apply for an occupancy permit?

To apply for an occupancy permit, you must typically submit an application to your local building department or government agency responsible for building inspections. The application process usually involves a final inspection of the property to ensure all construction complies with local codes and any conditions of the building permit have been met. The specific requirements and forms can vary by jurisdiction, so it's important to check with your local authorities for the exact process.

What happens if I occupy a building without an occupancy permit?

Occupying a building without an occupancy permit can lead to several legal consequences. Local governments may issue fines or penalties, and in some cases, they may require occupants to vacate the premises until the building is deemed compliant and a permit is issued. Additionally, operating a business or renting out space without a valid occupancy permit can result in legal action and further financial penalties.

Can an occupancy permit be revoked, and under what circumstances?

Yes, an occupancy permit can be revoked if subsequent inspections reveal that the building no longer complies with building codes or if there have been unauthorized changes to the structure that affect safety standards. Additionally, if the permit was obtained based on false information or through non-compliance with the relevant regulations, it can also be subject to revocation.

Are there different types of occupancy permits for residential and commercial properties?

Yes, there are often different types of occupancy permits for residential and commercial properties, reflecting the different safety codes and standards that apply to these types of buildings. For example, commercial buildings may have more stringent fire safety and accessibility requirements. It's important to apply for the correct type of permit that corresponds to the intended use of the building.

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