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Within the United States, as well as many other countries, an occupancy permit, or certificate of occupancy, is often required prior to a building or structure being inhabited. The agency or government office that is responsible for issuing an occupancy permit will vary by jurisdiction. Regardless of who is responsible for approving and issuing the permit, an occupancy permit is only issued after the proper authorities have inspected the structure and confirmed that it complies with all applicable building codes and is safe for occupancy.
When a new structure is built within the United States, an occupancy permit is always required prior to allowing anyone to inhabit the structure. Application for the permit is usually made to the appropriate local building authority, upon which a thorough inspection of the structure is completed. The inspection generally checks to make sure that the structure meets all applicable building codes and that basic things such as electrical and plumbing systems are in place and operating properly.
When a building changes its intended use is another situation in which an occupancy permit is typically required. For example, if a house is converted into office space, then a permit will be required stating that the building is fit for its new intended purpose. The reason behind this requirement is that commercial space often requires commercial heating or cooling systems or other modifications that must meet local building codes.
In the United States, when a commercial or industrial building changes ownership, a new occupancy permit must be issued to the new owners. The same applies to apartment buildings or other multi-family structures. A new permit is generally required as a safeguard to make sure that properties where the pubic frequent are safely maintained and kept up to code.
It is important to understand that an occupancy permit is not a guarantee that everything is in proper working order within the structure. A certificate of occupancy should not take the place of a proper certified inspection prior to occupancy. An building inspector who inspects a structure for an occupancy certificate is only checking for violations of the building code and major structural systems, such as electric or plumbing. For a new owner, a proper home or building inspection should also be done by a certified or licensed inspector to assure the new owner that all the small details are also in working order in the building or home.