Quick Start Guide
This Quick Start Guide is a brief overview of how to form an LLC in the District of Columbia.
District of Columbia LLC Costs:
DC LLC filing fee: $99 (one-time)
DC LLC biennial report: $300 (every 2 years)
Certificate of Occupancy for LLCs in the District
Your 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).
In addition to the above regulations administered by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), there are a handful of other agencies (local and federal) that have governing authority over the use and construction of buildings and structures in the District of Columbia.
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 Zoning Administrator (ZA), a subdivision of the DCRA.
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:
- 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 Zoning Administrator (ZA) 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 ZA 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 Zoning Administrator (ZA) 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 Zoning Administrator (ZA) 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. Thank you for your understanding.
Although the information provided by the DCRA below is somewhat step-by-step, the information can sometimes be confusing, and at times, ambiguous.
We recommend reading as much as possible to wrap your head around the steps and requirements and then we recommend going to the Permit Center, not to apply for your Certificate of Occupancy (not yet), but rather to speak with a representative, develop a plan of action, and make sure you “have all your ducks in a row”.
This is the best way to avoid surprises, or worse, having your Certificate of Occupancy Application denied.
Where to go:
DC Permit Center
1100 4th Street SW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20024
Note: The building is on the east side of 4th Street.
Hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Thursday their hours are 9:30am to 4:30pm. You must arrive prior to 3:30pm in order to be served.
Best time to arrive: We recommend arriving at the parking garage between 8:00am and 8:15am (except on Thursdays). This way, you’ll be the first served when they open at 8:30am.
Parking: There is a parking garage (also on the east side of 4th Street; right next to CVS). You can also use metered street parking if you find a spot, however, it may be less stressful to just pay for the parking garage since how long you’ll spend at the Permit Center will vary depending on the nature of your business and the proposed Certificate of Occupancy.
Here is an image of the 1100 building and you can see the entrance to the underground parking garage next to the CVS:
Applying for a Certificate of Occupancy
Of the 6 different types of Certificates of Occupancy, only one can be applied for online; the Change of Ownership (it can also be applied for in-person).
All other Certificates of Occupancy must be applied for in-person at the DC Permit Center:
DC Permit Center
1100 4th Street SW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20024
(hours of operation and parking details are a few paragraphs above)
1. Review the Application Instructions and General Information
2. Complete the Certificate of Occupancy Application Form
3. Comply with any additional regulations, such as getting a Building Permit, additional documentation, and/or inspections prior to bringing your Certificate of Occupancy Application to the Permit Center:
Contact Info: Office of the Zoning Administrator
If you have any questions about getting a Certificate of Occupancy for your LLC, you can contact the Office of the Zoning Administrator at 202-442-4576. Their office hours are 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday.
Note: The “Permit Center” is a part of the Office of the Zoning Administrator and has the same phone number.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a Certificate of Occupancy for a residential building?
A Certificate of Occupancy is needed for residentially-zoned buildings that are multi-family dwellings (duplex, triplex, etc.), child development homes, bed & breakfasts, group homes, and other similar dwellings.
If you plan to use your home for another type of business purpose (and your home complies with the Home Occupation Permit regulations), then you must apply for a Home Occupation Permit instead. If you’re not eligible for a Home Occupation Permit, then you can’t operate your proposed business from your DC home. You must rent office space instead.
Do I need a Certificate of Occupancy if my business is a tenant in an office building?
Likely no, as long as the existing owner 1) has a Certificate of Occupancy, and 2) that Certificate of Occupancy allows for your business to operate. If neither 1 nor 2 are true, you must apply for your own Certificate of Occupancy.
I already have a Certificate of Occupancy. I want to renovate. Do I need a new Certificate of Occupancy?
You don’t need a new Certificate of Occupancy if:
- you only renovate the interior (not the exterior)
- you didn’t change the layout
- you didn’t change the amount of square footage
- you didn’t change the use
- you didn’t change the occupant load
- the ownership of the building hasn’t changed
You need a new Certificate of Occupancy if:
- you are renovating the exterior
- you change the layout
- you change the amount of square footage
- you change the use
- you change the occupant load
- the ownership of the building has changed hands
For more Frequently Asked Questions about Certificates of Occupancy, please see here: Certificate of Occupancy Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If you plan to open an Eating Establishment in DC, along with your application for a Certificate of Occupancy, you must also submit an Eating Establishment Questionnaire.
A Certificate of Occupancy isn’t a license to conduct business
A Certificate of Occupancy isn’t a license granting you permission to conduct certain business activities.
It just certifies that your building is safe to be occupied and it meets the zoning codes.
For permission to conduct business activities, that is granted via a Basic Business License, which we will discuss in the next lesson.
Next Step: Basic Business License
After you get your Certificate of Occupancy (or your building’s Certificate of Occupancy Number), you can then proceed to the next lesson: DC LLC Basic Business License.
DCRA: Certificate of Occupancy Application Instructions and General Information
DCRA: Limitations on Eating Establishments in Specified Districts
DCRA: Certificate of Occupancy Application and Review Process
DCRA: Certificate of Occupancy Checklist and Process
DCRA: Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) Application
DCRA: Overview of Permitting Process
DCRA: Certificate of Occupancy
DCRA: DC Construction Codes
DCRA: Laws & Regulations
DC Business Center: If I work at home, do I need a Certificate of Occupancy?
DC Business Center: Certificate of Occupancy/Home Occupation Permit
DC Municipal Regulations and DC Register: Zoning Regulations of 2016
DC Office of Zoning: Zoning Regulations of 2016
DC Office of Zoning: Title 11 Zoning