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Certificates of Occupancy & “Letters in Lieu”

What is a Certificate of Occupancy?

When a house is built, it is subject to certain inspection by the town and/or municipal government to make sure it is fit for human habitation. Once the proper governing body declares it to meet the standards imposed, usually termed “being up to code,” a Certificate of Occupancy is issued and the builder is able to pass title to the Purchaser. If, in subsequent years, the Homeowner wishes to add anything on to his home, from a wood deck to a new wing, he must get a permit, submit to inspections by the building inspector, and get a new Certificate of Occupancy for the addition. Failure to do so leads to problems down the road, particularly when the Owner wishes to sell his home. The Purchaser will demand the required Certificates. If the Homeowner applies for the property Certificates after the work has been done, he runs into the danger of having the building department require a variance, which is costly, or demanding that the addition be removed if a variance cannot be obtained.

Many would-be Sellers today find themselves in a position of having to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy for part of the home that was there when they bought the house. This is because banks did not require a Certificate of Occupancy years ago, so an Owner may have purchased a house in 1970, thought it conformed to the code, and now, when he attempts to sell, discovers that he is missing the required Certificate. He must obtain it. This may not seem fair, and many an Owner complains about the injustice, but this is the state of affairs today.

What is a “Letter in Lieu?”

Whenever a house was built prior to the time the town issued Certificates of Occupancy, the town will, upon request, issues a “Letter in Lieu” ( a letter instead of the Certificate of Occupancy). The letter states that the house was built before Certificates of Occupancy were issued, but that it is recognized by the town as a conforming property and that no Certificate of Occupancy is required, nor will one be supplied.

If, however, any additions were made to the structure after it was built, the Certificate of Occupancy will be required.

If you are planning on selling your house, now is the time to make sure you have all the required Certificates and/or Letters in Lieu. They can be obtained at the County Clerk’s office or at the Village Hall if the property is within an incorporated village. Incidentally, you can probably get a copy of your survey while you are three. You may as well pick it up.

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