Certificate of Occupancy And/Or Fire Inspection

Every municipality does a township inspection before you close on your house. Each municipality makes their own rules for what they require and many of them have different names and procedures for getting one. Real Estate professionals usually just use the term Certificate of Occupancy (and sometimes abbreviate it as C.O.) regardless of what the township calls it and how involved of an inspection it is, so, for the purposes of this article I’ll also refer to it as Certificate of Occupancy.
What Is A Certificate Of Occupancy In NJ?
A Certificate of Occupancy is paperwork given by a municipality after they perform an inspection. The paperwork says that the building is safe and habitable according to municipality code standards. It is required when homes are transferred between owners for a sale.  (This is my own definition, more technical ones probably exist, but this is a quick easy one to understand.) Some towns also require them for rentals or after major construction.
What Do They Inspect?
  • All towns inspect smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers.
  • Some towns will only inspect for those three things and others will inspect areas of the home for safety as well.
  • Most towns will give you a checklist of what they are going to inspect and some lists can be quite long. I’ve seen some that will check only minor things like electrical outlets and others that won’t issue a C.O. if there is peeling paint.
  • Most towns will check to see if there are any work permits open that need to be closed.
Whose Responsibility Is It To Get The Certificate Of Occupancy?
Typically it is the seller’s responsibility. In short sales, foreclosures and AS IS sales the buyer is usually responsible.
How Much Does A Certificate Of Occupancy Cost?
Each township is different. Typically they cost anywhere for $50-$250. They could be more or less than that. Also, if you do not pass the first time most towns charge you again for a re-inspection.
There may also be costs to bring the house up to the standards the township requires. For example: If the town requires that the outlets in the kitchen be GFCI in order to pass a C.O. inspection and you don’t have those types of outlets then you will have to budget for those costs as well.
How Do I Get A Certificate Of Occupancy In NJ? 
You can call the township as soon as your property goes under contract and find out all the requirements, the cost, and how long before your closing you need to apply. I recommend actually going to town hall and speaking to someone. Typically C.O.’s are administered by the building department.
What If The House Is In Really Bad Condition And Won’t Pass?
In the case of foreclosures, short sales and AS IS properties they may be in really bad condition and not even able to pass an inspection. Most of the time the township will skip the inspection and give you a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy. This typically means that they give you some sort of paperwork from the township so you are able to purchase the house. It usually has a time frame to tell you how long they are giving you to make repairs after you purchase the house. Once those repairs are completed you can get your C.O. It is very important to understand that you have to complete repairs and get a C.O. before anyone can move into the property. Also, even if you are applying for a temporary C.O. the townships may require a smoke and carbon monoxide detector inspection because homes can still catch fire even if they are unoccupied.