Talkin’ Code with Andrew Getty

Who needs that silly certificate of occupancy anyway?

Certificate of Occupancy

Just like watching those bubbles floating to the surface in a glass of ginger ale, the failure to obtain the Certificate of Occupancy after the house is completed usually also rises to the surface… then pops as well.

This town is no different than other towns in many ways. Years past, permits were issued with good intent.

Inspections may or may not have happened during the different stages of construction.

The last and final inspection, which will determine if the Certificate of Occupancy can be issued, may also have been over- looked.

Now move forward ten, twenty or thirty years.

The house is still owned by the original person and they are selling.

For all these years, nobody thought any different about never having obtained the final inspection and Certificate of Occupancy.

The buyer’s attorney has asked for copies of the original permit and C/O.  But it does not exist.

Of course, the request is made a few days before the scheduled closing.

So, now what happens?

The Code Office is asked to produce the C/O.

There is no record of inspections for anything: framing, plumbing, electrical, emergency egress, insulation, footings, foundation, smoke alarms, railings, stairs, septic system, nothing on record at all.

Obviously the house has been used for all these years and everything seems okay, why not just issue the C/O?

The answer is simple; the basic life safety things should be verified. 

We may not be able to truly verify insulation, proper waste line ventilation, footings or anything that is just buried.

But we can verify some of the most fundamental life safety features like proper stairs and railings, smoke alarm locations and function, emergency egress windows or anything that is visible.

This is where a wrench can be thrown into the scheduled closing.

The Code Office does not intentionally want to create a problem for the closing, however, at the same time, we are not going to issue a C/O for a house that may have some fundamental code violations, even if they have existed for years.

An inspection of the premises must be completed.

The inspection is done and there are a number of potential problems.

Bedrooms were added in the basement, sometime well after the completion of the house.

There are no smoke alarms or windows in these bedrooms. the smoke alarms upstairs are only battery operated and not interconnected.

All the handrails are less than 30 inches off the floor.

The garage has no sheetrock.

The panel box has no cover and there are missing breakers, thus leaving holes into the box itself.

Nobody has any idea what is in the ground for a septic system.

Clearly, the bedrooms must have the basic smoke alarms interconnected with all the others in the house.

The bedrooms must also have natural light and ventilation and an emergency egress window meeting the minimum size requirements of the code.

Hand rails must be made right.

The garage connection to the house area must be provided with the minimum fire separation rating. And the main panel must be made safe.

Now here is the interesting question.

Why is the Code Office being so picky about something that is almost twenty years old?

This is picky?

Being picky would be requiring the footings be exposed in different places to verify they are proper.

Picky would be to expose insulation in various places to verify the NYS Energy Code was complied with.

Picky would be to open up walls to verify that proper plumbing techniques were followed.

Picky would be much more than trying to make sure that the fundamental life safety features are in place and proper.

None of these things will prevent a fire from starting, but without a doubt, they can prevent the escape if a fire actually got started.

Knowledge and understanding.

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