I just found out my Brooklyn (rental) apartment doesn't have a certificate of occupancy. Now what?
September 1, 2011 8:38 AM   Subscribe

I moved into a new apartment in July, and this week I found out that the building doesn't have a certificate of occupancy. How freaked out should I be? (Special snowflake details ahead)

My roomates and I are the first people to live there since the building was renovated following an electrical fire some time ago. There've been a lot of small problems that suggest the construction is not so good -- the roof's already leaking, my bedroom ceiling occasionally rains dust and dirt for no clear reason, etc. etc.

Our downstairs neighbors noticed that there's no certificate of occupancy posted for the building, and when they asked the broker who set everyone up in the place, he told them that apartment buildings with less than 6 units (ours has 4) don't need a certificate of occupancy.

I guess I have three questions.

First -- the broker's lying, right? That sounds like a totally made-up rule, and I can't find anything online to support it.

Second -- how big of a deal is this? According to my downstairs neighbor, certificates of occupancy demonstrate that the building has been inspected. Since the construction on our place isn't great, and since the building has already burned once, she is somewhat freaked out that an inspector hasn't seen it. Is she right? And should I be as worried as she is?

Third -- what do I do now? What would the consequences be if I reported the landlord to whomever it is that regulates this? Could I end up homeless?

Any help would be appreciated!
posted by WStraub to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can try calling the NYC Department of Buildings. The Brooklyn number for Certificates of Occupancy is (718) 802-3680.
posted by Lucinda at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

That sounds like a totally made-up rule, and I can't find anything online to support it.

Have you looked here? The full document is 3400 pages so it may be pretty hard to actually determine that the rule _isn't_ in here.
posted by advil at 8:57 AM on September 1, 2011

Call your local Department of Buildings and Safety STAT.

An inspector needs to come out right away. Yes your building needs a C of O. The problem here is that major construction was done, permits likely not pulled, and therefore the walls were closed up before an inspector looked at it.

I think you should document everything and possibly expect to go to small claims court with your landlord.

It sounds like crappy construction and I wouldn't be surprised if you won't be allowed to stay there. In that case your landlord would be responsible for a hotel or another apartment in another building... but who knows in this case?

Call the city asap.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:00 AM on September 1, 2011

As suggested, the best way to find out if a CO is needed is to ask the department issuing them.

The lack of a certificate of occupancy does not mean the building was not inspected nor that it failed the inspection. They are two separate items. A certificate of occupancy can be held up by something as little as not recording a notice of commencement. The current issues of leaking and dust falling down is more of a concern. Talk with the landlord about that, keeping the lack of a CO as a backup piece of info if needed.

While the lack of a CO could just be a paperwork item, it could very well be illegal to rent out without one - something else to ask the local building department.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:05 AM on September 1, 2011

how big of a deal is this?

It's impossible to say how risky it is to be there; it's possible the rewiring was fine, or that it's a deathtrap. That's why the DOB inspects a contractor's work. Does this happen in NYC a lot? yeah, and people manage to live in those places. You need to ask yourself, do I want to risk being one of the exceptions?

Could I end up homeless?

Yes. If they opened up the walls and didn't get a c of o/pull permits, the building could be closed until it gets sorted out. If you report this stuff, you should also be prepared to move.

You didn't specify: is your building a loft conversion? is it possible that it's not zoned for residential use, and that's why your landlord didn't get permits? The DOB has definitely kicked people out of places like that in Brooklyn; so even if they check the place and the wiring is up to code, you could still be facing a move.
posted by dubold at 9:07 AM on September 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everybody for the advice.

Dubold -- it's not a loft conversion, it's just a normal residential apartment. I checked the NYC Department of Buildings Building Information Search and found nothing on file, so I guess the next step is to call the Dept of Buildings & Safety and find out what's going on and how soon we can get an inspector out there.

Eep. Thanks everybody.
posted by WStraub at 9:24 AM on September 1, 2011

The building absolutely needs a C of O, according to NYS rental law.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:17 AM on September 1, 2011

I guess the next step is to call the Dept of Buildings & Safety and find out what's going on

Keep in mind that by doing this you are expediting your impending eviction. Not that you shouldn't do it, just plan accordingly.
posted by banshee at 10:28 AM on September 1, 2011

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