What is a Certificate of Occupancy?

In Washington, D.C., a Certificate of Occupancy, sometimes called a CO or COO, defines the property’s use and ensures that it conforms to the Zoning Regulations provision of the D.C. Construction Codes.

All building structures (except for single-family dwellings) require a CO in Washington, D.C. Note: Individual residential condominium and cooperative units do not require a CO.This is because the building already has a Master CO that covers all units in the building.

Owners of properties containing two or more residential units must have a valid CO that is issued in the owner’s name (or names, if there’s more than one owner) before they can apply for a basic business license to rent their property.

Specific CO requirements:

  • The COs for a 2-unit property, such as a rowhouse with an English basement, is required to state that its use is a TWO FAMILY FLAT. 
  • The CO for a building with three or more units (not a condo or coop building) is required to state that its use as an APARTMENT HOUSE. 
  • The CO must also define the property load for the purposes of rental housing. The load is the actual number of units in the property.

Just so you know, if you have an older CO, such as one issued before the 2000s, a 2-unit can simply be listed as FLAT instead of TWO FAMILY FLAT.

If you purchase a property that requires a CO, make sure the property already has the CO and also has the correct load (number of units) listed. At this point, if a property already has a valid Certificate of Occupancy, you can initiate a change of ownership.

Further reading:

How Do I Obtain A Certificate of Occupancy

How Can I Obtain a Change of Ownership for a Certificate of Occupancy?

What Is An Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)

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