Certificate of Occupancy must be obtained from the building department for new construction, additions, or change of use. The certificate of occupancy is the final document in the permit process and is a record that the project has been completed. Lenders require a certificate of occupancy before they will fund a loan, so if you are buying a new construction or remodeled property, you have to wait until the certificate of occupancy is issued before you can close. Cash buyers do not have to wait for the certificate of occupancy to be issued to close, but I recommend waiting for it because closing before it is issued can be very risky.
Certificate of Occupancy (sometimes called CofO for short) has several functions:
-Announces the property is now safe to live in.
-Signifies that the property is in compliance with building codes at the time the certificate was issued.
-Indicates the permitted use of the building.
Over the years the Los Angeles building department has changed what a certificate of occupancy looks like, here are a couple certificates of occupancy from different years:
Permitted Use & Occupancy
The building description in the Certificate of Occupancy includes the permitted use of the structure. It is always the last sentence of the description. For instance in the CofO above from 1981 the permitted use for the building is “R-1 Occupancy.”
Certificate of Occupancy and Permitted Use relate to building code (Section 9 of LA Municipal Code) and have nothing to do with Zoning (Sections 1 of LA Municipal Code). It can be really confusing because the building departments “Use and Occupancy” codes use some of the same names as Zoning – R1, R2, R3, R4 etc. However for Permitted Use these codes have their own meaning and should not be confused with the zoning definitions.
Los Angeles Municipal Code adopted the definitions for Use and Occupancy from the California Building Code in 1985. Here is a link to CBC Use and Occupancy definitions. Residential occupancy codes (R1, R2, R3, R4) are Section 310.
Here is my simplification of the Use and Occupancy R definitions:
Residential occupancies containing sleeping units were the occupants are primarily transient in nature, including: Boarding Houses, Hotels, Motels.
Residential occupancies containing sleeping units with more than two dwelling units where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature, including: apartment buildings, boarding houses, convents, dormitories.
Residential occupancies where the occupants are primarily permanent in nature and not classified in R-1, R-2, or R-4, including: Duplexes and Single Family houses.
Residential occupancies for residential care/assisted living facilities.
If you have a Certificate of Occupancy before 1985, the Occupancy and Use code for Los Angeles were different. Dwellings and Duplexes use to be R-1 instead of R-3. Hotels, motels and Apartment houses were R-2, R-3, and R-4.
To have a legal Rental your Zoning AND Permitted use must comply with each other. Even if you have a Permitted Use of a building as an apartment house, if your property is an R1 zone the property can only be rented as one dwelling.
Process to Recieve CofO
To receive a certificate of occupancy the property must pass a series of inspections by city building department. City inspectors visit the property at each major phase of construction and approve the previous phase before the next phase begins. You can order and check the status of Los Angeles building permits online on the LADBS website.
This new construction home in Beverly Hills was completed in 2012. The Certificate of Occupancy was issued 8/7/2012
Here is a list of the inspections it went through in order to get the final CofO:
Another example I have is of a remodel in Leimert Park. The original house was 2br/1ba. An investor added an additional 497 sqft 1br +1ba masterbedroom.
3766 S Grayburn Ave, Los Angeles 90018
Here is the inspection activity for Grayburn to get the CofO on the 500sqft addition:
There is less inspections for remodels than new construction because they is less construction work. You can see that the city goes to great length to make sure new buildings are safe. After the project is completed the inspector will final the permit and a certificate of occupancy is issued.
Buildings didn’t always have Certificates of occupancy. It is hard to believe that the population of Los Angeles, now over 3,000,000, was once only 576,000- but it was in 1920. The original city planning commission was only five members. Today, the building department has over 260 employees. Houses built before 1930 do not receive certificates of occupancy because they didn’t exist yet.
Certificate of Occupancy History
Prior to 1930
No Certificates of Occupancy were issue (they didn’t exist yet)
The City started initially by issuing Certificates of Compliance for commercial buildings (all theatres, hospital, schools, and garages.)
The Municipal Code was changed to require that a Certificates of Occupancy be issued for all building categories except homes.
The code was again changed to include a Certificate of Occupancy requirement for all new buildings. It has stayed this way to present day
Q: How long does it take to get a certificate of occupancy once my permits have been finaled?
A: Normally it takes 2-3 weeks. When there is a building boom it can take as long as 2-3 months.
Q: Where do I find a properties Certificate of Occupancy?