Certificate of Occupancy: What It Is And How To Know If You Have One

Certificate of Occupancy: What It Is And How To Know If You Have One

The Official Word


“You need to get a Certificate of Occupancy if you’re planning to change the designated use or occupancy of a space.”

-City of Philadelphia


As you may or may not know the Use of a space is regulated through Zoning. However, a Certificate of Occupancy is a form of Building Permit. Typically, when you change the Use of a space you are also renovating it to accommodate this change, which means you will submit Building and Zoning applications simultaneously.


If you read  the description of your approved permit closely, you will notice the Zoning Permit will grant a change of Use as well as new Zoning (if applicable), while the Building Permit will grant permission to alter the space as per the approved plans and permission to occupy the space with say three residential units as opposed to two.


Over-the-Counter Certificate of Occupancy


It’s no surprise that not everyone who owns real estate in Philadelphia is familiar with the in’s and out’s of Zoning and Permitting procedure. Although if you read our blog you are obviously in-the-know.


Being in-the-know is really the best place to be, when your dealing with the famed and fabled Licenses and Inspections, known more commonly as L&I. Although you may not know it, if you own real estate in Philadelphia, you are under the jurisdiction of L&I. And if you aren’t playing the the rules, well let’s just say, they don’t take kindly to rule breakers and you will pay. Literally. The fees associated with obtaining Permits and Licenses are a drop in the bucket compared to what you will pay in fines.


But, since none of us is perfect, it’s fair to point out that L&I isn’t either. If you own or live in a property, like the one I mentioned earlier, (a single family home of duplex, built and operating as a multi-family) so long as the Zoning for the property allows this, and the square footage is great enough that each unit is more than 360 square feet a simple, over-the-counter Use Permit and Certificate of Occupancy will get you on the right side of L&I. No fines incurred.  


Do I Have a CO?


So how do you know if you are following all the rules? The first step is to know the rules, which you now know. The second step is to search your property in the Atlas. Check the existing permits to see if they match up with the current use and occupancy.


If you aren’t compliant, or you’re not sure, send us and email or give us a call. We’d love to help you get in-the-know.


Philly Zoning Team
  • Posted at 11:14 pm, April 3, 2019

    Great stuff! In Houston TX we have no zoning. This can be a mixed bag. However we do have certificates of occupancy and many new businesses have no idea whether they require one or not. A friend who is a business owner explained to me that it was two years or more after he had been up and running that an inspector came by. It sounds like he just had to apply for his certificate of occupancy permit after that and it all went OK. Not a huge problem. I think he was just very lucky. Most businesses in Houston are required to have a CO permit or operate under the CO from building they lease from.

  • Pam reynolds
    Posted at 10:23 pm, August 11, 2020

    When did they start making duplex owner landlords pay a UO tax

    • Alexa Ahrem
      Posted at 8:19 pm, August 13, 2020

      Check with the office of property assessment.

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