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Certificate of Occupancy Questions

What is a Certificate of Occupancy? When is it needed and issued?

The main document that is issued to certify the legal use of a building is referred to as the “certificate of occupancy”. This document is usually issued by the Department of Buildings. It contains the various clauses on how the building may be occupied. Examples: a two family home, a parking garage, multiple dwelling, retail store and so on. This document is necessary if one is selling a home or refinancing through a mortgage.

When a new building is constructed or an existing building is undergoing modifications or changes in usage, entry or exits, occupancy and so on, a new or altered certificate of occupancy is required. In most cases, the contractor or owner’s representatives inform the necessary department to inspect the construction, plumbing, electrical, and elevator installations, and the working condition and compliance of all of the above.

The certificate of occupancy is usually issued when the work is complete as per the approved plans and applicable laws. This includes completion of paperwork, approvals from various city/government agencies, fee payment and resolution of any violations. Until the paperwork is completed, the building cannot be occupied.

Can a tenant sue a landlord who rents a property without having a certificate of occupancy?

Additional Questions: What is the procedure to do so? And can costs incurred by the tenant in repairing the property be recovered?

In most cases, the tenant does have the right to sue the landlord when the property has been rented without a certificate of occupancy. The tenant also has a right to receive a reimbursement for the cost of the repairs made on the property.

The first step would be to contact the landlord’s lawyer’s office and send them a letter with the details of amount owed (rent, security deposit or repair costs), reasons, and a timeline for the payment. This letter can be sent through certified mail with a return receipt. You would want to retain the originals and make copies of everything. If the landlord does not oblige, then you can approach the Small Claims Court (SCC). Once filed with the court, the tenant can also request reimbursement of cost of filing, cost of service process and interest. If you have copy of any summons or notice sent by the government to the landlord, it can be attached as evidence along with your complaint. A SCC looks into claims up to $5000. The following link has more useful information: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/civil/civ-02.htm#WhoSC

What can a house purchaser do if misinformed at the time of purchase that there was a certificate of occupancy when there wasn't one?

For starters, the attorney representing you at the time of closing the deal for the house can be sued. In addition, the seller can also be sued as he/she has committed fraud by withholding true information. You could sue for the cost of obtaining a new certificate of occupancy and damages for loss of utilization of the house until the time a new certificate of occupancy is issued. But since the property now belongs to you, as the homeowner or property owner, it becomes your responsibility to obtain the certificate of occupancy.

Can the landlord sue a tenant for unpaid rent though the property being rented has no certificate of occupancy?

This depends on whether the city/government requires a certificate of occupancy for apartments or not. Laws may vary from state to state. In case it is required, he/she may be penalized with fines by the building department for not having a certificate of occupancy. If the property is inspected and the inspector finds the landlord is collecting illegal rent, the landlord would be prohibited from collecting that rent. If the inspector finds nothing illegal regarding the certificate of occupancy, the landlord is entitled to receive rent from the tenant.

If a person is leasing an industrial building to use as office space, do they need to get the certificate of occupancy from the landlord?

Case details: The property in question is in Madison Heights, Michigan

The person starting a business at the industrial building would be the main person responsible for obtaining the certificate of occupancy. More information available is on the following links:
http://www.madison-heights.org/departments/community_development/index.jsp
http://www.madison-heights.org/departments/community_development/docs/applications/cofoinformationpacket.pdf

A certificate of occupancy is an important document in order to start occupying or living in a home/building. You may have all the other paperwork but without this document you cannot move into the property. You also need to learn who is responsible for obtaining this document, whether it is the tenant, landlord, buyer, or seller. With the help of legal counsel you can determine the right thing to do for your particular situation with respect to certificate of occupancy. If you are not sure of the particulars of your case, your legal rights or responsibilities, you can ask an Expert for legal insights that can point you in the right direction.
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