Thursday, December 13, 2007

Certificates of Occupancy, Compliance Not the Same

Throughout a City Council discussion Wednesday, speakers mixed up the state-required Certificate of Occupancy with the city's requirements for a Certificate of Compliance. The first is menat to show compliance with state building codes and is administered by the municipality's construction official. The second refers to a city ordinance that requires a home or apartment to meet the city's own property maintenance code at the time of sale or transfer. It was passed by the City Council about 10 years ago and is upheld by the Division of Inspections.

The information below is excerpted from a web site on New Jersey permits.

NJAC 5:23-2.23 (a through e) and (j)Certificate Requirements(a) New buildings: A building or structure hereafter erected shall not be used or occupied in whole or part until a form of certificate of occupancy shall have been issued by the construction official.1. The enforcing agency shall upon application by the owner issue a certificate of occupany when all requirements of the regulations have been met.(b) Building hereafter altered: A building or structure hereafter enlarged, extended or altered shall not be occupied or used until the certificate of occupancy shall have been issued by the construction official certifying that the work has been completed in accordance with the provisions of the approved permit, except as is provided in the regulations. Any use or occupany which was not discontinued during the work of alteration, shall be discontinued within 30 calendar days after the completion of the aleration unless the certificate of occupany is secured from the enforcing agency.(c) Existing buildings: Upon request of the owner of an existing building or structure, the construction official, with the approval of the subcode officials, shall issue a certificate of continued occupancy provided that there are not violations of law or orders of the construction official pending and it is established after inspection and investigation of available municipal records that the alleged use of the building or structure has lawfully existed. The certificate of continued occupancy shall evidence only that a general inspection of the visible parts of the building has been made, and that no violations on NJAC 5:23-2.14 have been determined to have occurred and no unsafe conditions violative of NJAC 5:23-2.32(a) have been found. Nothing in this subsection shall prevent the continued lawful use and occupany of any such lawfully existing building or structure.(d) Change of use: After a change of use has been made in a building or structure, the reestablishment of a prior use that is not legal in a new building of the same type of construction is prohibited unless the building complies with all applicable provisions of the regulations. A change from one prohibited use for which a permit has been granted to another prohibited use shall be deemed a violation of the regulations.(c) Temporary certificate of occupany: Upon the request of a holder of a permit, the construction official may issue a temporary certificate of occupancy for a building or structure or part thereof before the entire work covered by the permit shall have been completed, provided such portion or portions may be occupied safely prior to full completion of the building or structure without endangering life or public welfare.

The Certificate of Compliance is in Plainfield's code book, which is available in PDF format on Rashid Burney's web site. To read the entire ordinance, you have to open the link to the section on buildings and then advance to page 28.

Among reasons for the Certificate of Compliance, Plainfield's major asset is its housing stock, much of which is older than 30 years. Protecting the housing stock is a priority. Either the buyer or seller of a home can agree to make needed repairs at the time of sale. In the case of apartments, the landlord is supposed to bring the unit up to code before a new tenant moves in.

The City Council has already repealed a safe housing ordinance aimed at preventing overcrowding. Watering down adherence to the property maintenance code, in Plaintalker's opinion, will make it easier for slumlords to make a lot of money off substandard dwellings. Half of the city's householders are renters and they currently have very little advocacy or protection from rapacious landlords except for the Certificate of Compliance ordinance, in our opinion.

--Bernice Paglia


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