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Certificate of Occupancy Checklist: Understanding the Basics

Becoming a landlord isn’t as easy as buying and renting a home. In order to rent out a home as part of your rental business, you must obtain the correct licensing and meet the requirements. One essential part of owning a rental business is getting a certificate of occupancy. Read along as we discuss what it is, how to get one, and the consequences for landlords without a certificate of occupancy. At the end, we’ll review a certificate of occupancy checklist to ensure you have all the necessary documentation. 


What Is a Certificate of Occupancy?

A certificate of occupancy is a legal document that proves any structure, like a rental property or office building, is inhabitable and safe to live in. Additionally, a certificate of occupancy will generally include a description of the property type and use, verification that the property is up to code, and confirmation that the property is inhabitable. 

By law, it’s required to have a valid occupancy certificate for any property that will have people living in it, whether it’s short-term or long-term. As such, landlords must know when and how to obtain a certificate of occupancy. So next, let’s go over when to get one. 

When Do You Need a Certificate of Occupancy

There are several instances where you’d need to get a certificate of occupancy. For example, if you’re rental property aligns with any of the following, it could be necessary. 

  1. You’ve Changed the Property Type
  2. It’s a Newly Constructed Property
  3. You’ve Completed a Major Renovation
  4. There’s a New Owner or Occupant

You’ve Changed the Property Type

Whenever you change the use of a property, you need to get a new certificate of occupancy. For instance, getting a new occupancy certificate is important if you’re turning office space into a residential apartment. 

That said, the requirements for each use are a bit different, so you’ll likely need to make changes to the property to obtain the certificate. 


It’s a Newly Constructed Property

Generally, you must get a certificate of occupancy before selling any newly built property. However, since the new property has never been occupied, it will need to go through all of the inspections for the first time to ensure compliance. 

That said, it can take some time to get through the inspections, so it’s essential to consider getting your certificate while you’re still early in the process.  

You’ve Completed a Major Renovation

A certificate of occupancy is typically required if you’ve completed a major renovation or made a major addition to the property. Additionally, some jurisdictions require a certificate of occupancy for renovations that change exits or may impact fire safety. 

For instance, if you want to make structural changes to a rental property that changes where you exit the building, you’ll have to get a certificate of occupancy before renting it out. 

There’s a New Owner or Occupant

Depending on your local laws, some jurisdictions require a new certificate of occupancy each time you sell a property or rent it out to a tenant. However, check with your local building or zoning authority to ensure your property is compliant. 

How and Where to Get a Certificate of Occupancy


You can get a certificate of occupancy from your local government. Generally, you can contact your local building or zoning inspection office and get one through them. Before you go, ensure you know what documentation you’ll have to provide. Keep in mind that regulations vary depending on the location of your property. 

Regardless, your property must pass several inspections before obtaining a certificate of occupancy. Some inspections to prepare for include plumbing, electric, and fire safety inspections. That said, the certificate cannot be issued until the property has passed all inspections and you pay any associated fines.

If your property doesn’t pass the inspection, you can correct your mistakes within a certain amount of time (typically around 60 days) and have your property re-inspected. You’ll be given your Certificate of Occupancy if you pass the second inspection. 

The fees for a certificate of occupancy vary depending on your location. Typically, it depends on the size and type of the property. For example, in Washington DC there’s one $42 fee, a $33 filing fee, and an additional fee depending on the square footage of the property.

Consequences for Landlords If They Don’t Get One

If you’re a landlord, you should not take the laws around rental property compliance lightly. If you neglect to get a certificate of occupancy for your properties, you could face financial penalties. Even worse, you could face a lawsuit issued by the town or local government. 

As you can imagine, any fines or court cases could put a major dent in the success of your rental business. That said, to avoid unforeseen circumstances, ensure you have all the correct documentation and pass the required inspections before allowing tenants in your rental homes. 

If you need help registering your rental property and want to ensure full compliance, reach out to your local Washington DC property management company, Bay Property Management Group. Next, let’s go over a certificate of occupancy checklist to ensure you have the correct documentation. 

Certificate of Occupancy Checklist: Requirements for Landlords

There are several things that landlords must do to obtain a certificate of occupancy. For instance, you’ll have to pass all of the required inspections, which may include: 


  • Electrical Inspection
  • HVAC Inspection
  • Plumbing Inspection
  • Fire Safety Inspection
  • Mechanical Systems Inspection
  • General Building Inspection

If you don’t pass all of these inspections, you cannot get a certificate of occupancy. That said, it’s important to consider the inspections you’ll need as you’re renovating or building your property. Before a final inspection, you’ll have to ensure your building meets each of the following requirements: 

  • Adequate parking
  • Meets landscape requirements 
  • Access for the disabled
  • Adequate storm drainage
  • Conforms to signage limits
  • Meets street setback requirements

If your property doesn’t conform to safety or building codes, you won’t be issued a certificate of occupancy. Therefore, it’s crucial to come up with a thorough certificate of occupancy checklist to ensure you’re preparing your property correctly. 

Ensure Your Rentals are Compliant With Property Management

Whether you own one or several rental properties, navigating compliance requirements can be difficult and confusing. After all, you could face major fines and legal ramifications for non-compliance. 

However, with a trusted property management team, you don’t have to stress about rental registration or compliance issues. Bay Property Management Group can help you through every step of the way. Whether you need help with compliance, tenant relations, or ongoing maintenance, our expert staff can help your rental business succeed. 

We offer comprehensive rental management services, including tenant screening, rental registration, rent collection, maintenance, and more! Contact BMG today if you need comprehensive management services in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, or Washington, DC.