A Certificate of Occupancy is a document issued by the New York City Department of Buildings which is evidence that a home or addition to a home, such as a deck, has been built in accordance with plans approved by the Building Department and may legally be used or “occupied.” When buying a home, your attorney will review a report of title to make sure, among other things, that there is a certificate of occupancy (or “C of O”) for the home and any additions made to the home since it was built; such as a dormer, extension or deck.
Under the standard contract of sale used by New York City attorneys, the seller is obligated to provide such C of Os. While a seller may have cut corners when adding, say, a deck, by not filing proper plans and obtaining a C of O (yes, it is less expensive in the short run to build a deck without the proper permits) they would now have to retain professionals to file the necessary plans and undertake any remedial work which may be required to obtain the C of O. In the long run, a home owner may wind up spending more money to correct the problem created by not obtaining a C of O in the first place.
Even if you’re not planning on selling your home, by not obtaining a C of O when you build your deck, you could expose yourself to potential liability if someone is injured due to your deck not conforming to building department specifications. A tragic example of this occurred in Queens not so long ago when a second story deck collapsed resulting in injuries and a fatality. It turned out that there was no C of O for the deck and it was not built in compliance with Building Department regulations. What would otherwise have been a tragic accident became a potential multimillion dollar lawsuit.
If you plan on building a deck, or buying a home with an existing deck, be sure you consult with professionals. You’ll enjoy your deck more knowing it’s legal and above all, safe for you and your family.