Certificate of Occupancy for LLCs in the District of Columbia
Your DC LLC needs a Certificate of Occupancy if you own or lease commercial/office space in the District of Columbia.
If you’re developing new construction, you certainly need to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy.
If you’re renting office space, it’s likely that the building’s Certificate of Occupancy will cover your business activities. If that’s the case, you’ll need the building’s Certificate of Occupancy Number in order to enter it into your Basic Business License Application (which we’ll discuss in the next lesson).
However, if the building doesn’t have a Certificate of Occupancy or their Certificate of Occupancy doesn’t cover your business activities, then you’ll need to apply for your own Certificate of Occupancy.
Note: If you rent or own your home and want to run your business from home, then you need a Home Occupation Permit instead.
What is a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O)?
A Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is a document showing that a specific building, structure, or piece of land is being used in a manner that is in accordance with Title 11 (Zoning Regulations) of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) as well as in accordance with the DC Building Codes (Title 6, 12, 14, and 42).
Note: The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) used to administer the Certificate of Occupancy. In October 2022, the newly-created Department of Buildings took over the Certificate of Occupancy program.
What is the purpose of a Certificate of Occupancy?
While all these rules and regulations may seem complicated, they, and the issuance of Certificates of Occupancy, have one primary purpose: to keep the people who live and work in DC safe.
No one can use a building, structure, or piece of land in the District (other than single-family homes) unless a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued by the Department of Buildings.
Will you be leasing space?
If you are leasing space within a building that already has a Certificate of Occupancy, you don’t need to get a Certificate of Occupancy if the building’s Certificate of Occupancy allows for your intended use.
For example: If you run a marketing agency and rent office space within a large office building, it’s very likely that your business activities will be covered under the building’s existing Certificate of Occupancy.
However, if your building’s Certificate of Occupancy doesn’t allow for your use, then you’ll need to apply for your own.
For example: You have a small lab that tests and manufactures skin care products. Due to the risk of certain substances that may be in your office, you may need your own Certificate of Occupancy as the building’s Certificate of Occupancy doesn’t cover this type of business activity.
Furthermore, if the building you are occupying doesn’t have a Certificate of Occupancy, then you will need to apply for one before you can begin operating your business.
Get the Certificate of Occupancy Number:
When applying for your LLC’s Basic Business License, you will need to enter your building’s Certificate of Occupancy Number.
Get a copy of the Certificate of Occupancy from the owner or property management company.
You should also be able to find the Certificate of Occupancy Number fairly easily as it’s a requirement that a building prominently display their Certificate of Occupancy. It’s usually close to the entrance or main reception desk.
Speak with your leasing agent or the building owner about the building’s Certificate of Occupancy before renting any space in the District.
How much does a Certificate of Occupancy cost?
If you need to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy, the total cost will be based on square footage of the building.
All Certificate of Occupancy applicants will pay a $36.30 application fee. The final fee (the issuance fee) will vary depending on the building’s square footage. On average, the total is $75 to $125.
The 6 Types of Certificates of Occupancy
There are 6 different types of Certificates of Occupancy applications:
- change of ownership
- change of use
- change of occupant load
- temporary occupancy
- new building (completion of core and shell, conditional, and establishment of a new occupancy)
Change of Ownership
A Change of Ownership Certificate of Occupancy is used after a building has been purchased by a new owner. It is the most straightforward Certificate of Occupancy application among the 6 (since the existing building likely already has a Certificate of Occupancy).
Change of Use
A Change of Use Certificate of Occupancy is used when the purpose and use of the building or structure is changing. For example, if you plan to open a doctor’s office where a pet grooming business was located.
Change of Occupant Load
A Change of Occupant Load Certificate of Occupancy is when the owners propose to change the number of occupants (the “load”) in a given building.
For example: Seating capacity in a restaurant, number of occupants in a boarding/community home, number of classrooms or number of students in an educational facility, increasing the number of units in a hotel, motel, or apartment building, and other similar changes. Depending on the circumstances, a Building Permit may also be required.
5,000 square feet +
If you’re proposing to change the occupant load in a building that is 5,000 square feet or larger, your proposed changes must be reviewed and approved by the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) Stormwater Management. If you don’t request a final inspection of your stormwater management system as well as your plans/drawings, this will likely result in you being denied your Certificate of Occupancy.
A Revision of a Certificate of Occupancy is used when an error was made on the original issued Certificate of Occupancy. There can be no substantial changes to the use or occupancy as allowed by the original issued Certificate of Occupancy.
A Certificate of Occupancy for Temporary Occupancy is usually used for an outdoor event or use of a building on a limited/temporary basis. The Department of Buildings may also impose certain conditions to be met for the safety of the attendees. Depending on the type of use of the building, a Building Permit may also be required prior to the Department of Buildings issuing the Certificate of Occupancy.
New Building (Completion of Core and Shell)
A Completion of Core and Shell Certificate of Occupancy is not a “full” Certificate of Occupancy and it doesn’t mean the building can be occupied. It’s simply recognizing that the core and shell of the building have been completed in accordance with the DC Building Codes. This type of Certificate of Occupancy is required in order to get a Conditional Certificate of Occupancy for a new building.
New Building (Conditional)
A Conditional Certificate of Occupancy may be issued by the Department of Buildings to allow certain occupancy of the building while the rest of the building/construction is taking place. A Completion of Core and Shell Certificate of Occupancy must be issued before a Conditional Certificate of Occupancy can be issued.
New Building (Establishment of a New Occupancy)
This is the “final” Certificate of Occupancy that’s issued by the Department of Buildings once a new building has been completed and is ready to be occupied. Inspections must be scheduled before the final Certificate of Occupancy can be issued.
5,000 square feet +
If your new building will be 5,000 square feet or more, you must request an inspection by the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) Stormwater Management. They need to do a final inspection of your building’s stormwater management system and your plans/drawings. If you don’t request this inspection, you’ll likely be denied your Certificate of Occupancy.
How to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy
The instructions will vary depending on the type of Certificate of Occupancy you’re applying for.
We specialize in LLC formation in all 50 states; not zoning regulations in DC. Therefore, the information provided in this lesson is more of an overview and it’s meant to point you in the right direction instead of walking you through everything step-by-step.
Call the Department of Buildings for Help
We recommend reading this guide so you understand the Certificate of Occupancy requirements. And then, call the Department of Buildings to speak with a representative, develop a plan of action, and make sure you know exactly what documents and approvals you will need.
This is the best way to avoid surprises, or worse, having your Certificate of Occupancy Application denied.
You can call the Department of Buildings at 202-671-3500 (Press 3 for Permits) or use their online chat service.