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Zoning FAQs

Certificate of Occupancy

1. What is a certificate of occupancy (C of O) and when is it required?
The purpose of a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) is to ensure that the use of a building, structure or land in the District of Columbia conforms to the Zoning Regulations (DCMR Title 11) provisions of the DC Construction Codes, and the Green Building Act. In most cases, no person can use a building, structure or land in the District of Columbia for any purpose other than a single family dwelling, until a valid C of O has been issued.

2. What are the types of C of O applications?
There are six (6) types of C of O applications: ownership change, use change, occupant load change, revision, temporary occupancy, and new building. For new buildings, there are three (3) C of O subsets: conditional, completion of core and shell, and establishment of a new occupancy.

Ownership Change:
If the operator of a use established by a prior C of O is changing, a change of ownership application is required.  No changes to the use, square footage, or occupant load are proposed.  Please note that a zoning inspection is required for nonconforming uses, apartment buildings, rental units, eating establishments, for any use for which the current C of O was issued greater than 10 years ago, and other uses as determined by the Office of the Zoning Administrator.

New Construction, Use Change, Occupant Load Change:
If a new building or addition is constructed or there is a change of use, a building permit application with plans is required to be approved, constructed and passed inspection prior to the approval of a C of O. A building permit may also be required to change the occupant load, as determined by the Permit Operations Division.

C of O for a new construction and load occupancy change (over 5,000 square feet) will be reviewed by District of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Stormwater Management. Failure to request a final inspection of storm water management facilities, and submittal of as-built plans of the completed storm water facility, may result in the denial of the C of O application.

Completion of Core and Shell: A means to recognize that the core and shell of a building have been substantially and materially completed in accordance with the DC Construction Codes.  It does not allow occupancy of a building.  A core and shell must be obtained prior to a Conditional Certificate of Occupancy for a new building.  

Conditional Occupancy:  A conditional certificate of occupancy may be issued for part of the building before completion of the entire work covered by the building permit. Review the Issuance of Conditional Certificates of Occupancy Guidelines about the application submission, review and approval process. If you have questions about how to apply for a conditional or core and shell C of O, please review the Conditional and Core and Shell Certificate of Occupancy FAQs.

Revision: If a typographical error was made in a previously issued C of O, the applicant should apply for a revision to the issued C of O.  Note that no substantive changes to the use or occupancy are permitted as a revision to an issued C of O.

Temporary: For use of a building or outdoor event on a temporary basis.  Conditions may be imposed as necessary and will include an expiration date.  A building permit may be required prior to the issuance of a temporary C of O.

3. How do I apply for a change of ownership C of O ?
Applicants seeking a change of ownership only may apply online here. For applications that meet the following conditions, a new certificate for change of ownership will be issued the same business day:

  • no change other than ownership
  • the prior C of O was issued less than 10 years ago
  • the use listed on the issued certificate is the same as the proposed use
  • the fees are paid in full

If your change of ownership application does not meet this criteria, it will be reviewed following the process described in Question #4.

4. How do I apply for all other types of certificates of occupancy?
For all other types of C of O applications, the application and supporting documents must be submitted via email to coapp@dc.gov. (Allow 7 business days for the review of your application.)

What is the review process for a C of O application submitted under the guidelines of Question #4?
There is a 5-Step Review Process to review all C of O applications other than change of ownership applications that meet the criteria identified in Question #3:

Email notifications will be sent to the applicant, or to the applicant’s agent, at each step:

  1. The application will be screened and either accepted for review or deemed incomplete and put on hold until the outstanding items have been submitted or completed. Apart from missing supporting documents, DCRA staff will not accept a C of O application for a property that has any outstanding building permits, trade permits, incomplete wall test, or inspections reports.
  2. As soon as the application has been accepted, it will be routed for concurrent review to the required divisions and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), if applicable.  
  3. Following the completion and approval of all reviews, and any required inspections have been passed, the C of O certificate will be ready for issuance.
  4. Invoices will be sent via email to the applicant to pay the fees.
  5. Upon receipt of fees, the certificate will be sent by email to the applicant.

6.   What supporting documents must be submitted with my C of O application?
The following documents are required to be submitted for all C of O applications, regardless of type:

  1. Authorization Form – if a hired agent is completing the application form on behalf of the applicant (insert link)
  2. Lease, deed, letter of permission from property owner to use the property, HUD-1
  3. Building Permit, if applicable
  4. Most recent C of O on record
  5. ALL rough/close-in and Final inspection reports
  6. If performed by a third party agency, reports must be uploaded to Accela Mobile Office (AMO) prior to submission of C of O application
  7.  A Special Inspections Final Statement of Special Inspections - As required
  8. Green - This will all depend on the designation that the project has taken:
  • Green Building Communities:  Update GBC folder 60 days prior to C of O application,
  • LEED:  Financial Security (i.e. Binding Pledge, Bond, Escrow cash etc.) for Green Building Act compliance must be submitted with the C of O application  

Reference the list of C of O supporting documents here. Please note, it is likely that additional documents may be requested during the review process.

7. What is required to be submitted for properties that are subject to a Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) or Zoning Commission (ZC) Order?
For buildings subject to a Zoning Commission (ZC) or Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) approval, the Office of Zoning Administrator will verify the applicant’s compliance with the conditions of the Order prior to the approval of a C of O.  The applicant is required to provide a letter or matrix, with attachments as necessary, from the property owner that documents compliance with the conditions of the Order.   This information must be submitted to DCRA with the C of O application. Be sure to include this information along with the C of O application and other supporting documents when you apply for a C of O or your application will not be deemed complete and will not be accepted by DCRA for review.

8. What information is required to be submitted for properties that have been inspected by a third party agency?
If the applicant used a Third Party Agency to perform inspections, the Third Party Agency must submit inspection reports to DCRA’s Third Party Program staff.

A DCRA zoning and oversight inspection(s) may be required prior to the approval of the C of O.   These inspections, if required, will be identified and will be scheduled during the review process of your C of O application.  DCRA will contact the applicant by email to advise of the inspection requirement and provide a window for the time of the inspection. The applicant or agent for the applicant is responsible for communicating both the date and time of the inspection to anyone who needs to be present during the inspection. The inspection must be passed prior to the issuance of the C of O.

9. When is a Core and Shell C of O required?
A Core and Shell C of O is not required unless the applicant will be seeking a conditional certificate of occupancy (CCO) for the building. DCRA will issue a Core and Shell C of O if requested by the owner for financing or other reasons. A Core and Shell C of O does NOT allow occupancy of a building, rather, the issuance of it signifies that the Core and Shell have been fully constructed, consistent with the approved building plans and are operational.  

10. My project intends to request a conditional certificate of occupancy (CCO.)  When should we come in for a Core and Shell C of O?
Please apply after all the Core and Shell inspections are complete, reports are submitted to DCRA’s third party inspections staff and approved If you have questions about how to apply for a conditional or core and shell C of O, please review the Conditional and Core and Shell Certificate of Occupancy FAQs.

Conditional and Core and Shell Certificate of Occupancy

1. What is a conditional certificate of occupancy (CCO)?
A conditional certificate of occupancy (CCO) is a mechanism to assist an owner to obtain limited occupancy of a building that is still under construction. A Core and Shell C of O is required to be issued before a CCO is issued.  A Core and Shell C of O does not allow occupancy of the building.

2. How do I apply for a CCO?
The application and supporting documents must be submitted via email to COAPP@dc.gov. (Allow 7 business days for the review of your application.)

3. What is the review process for a CCO?
There is a 5 Step Review Process to review all C of O applications other than change of ownership applications that meet the criteria identified in Question #3:

Email notifications will be sent to the applicant, or to the applicant’s agent, at each step:

  1. The application will be screened and either accepted for review or deemed incomplete and put on hold until the outstanding items have been submitted or completed. Apart from missing supporting documents, DCRA staff will not accept a C of O application for a property that has any outstanding building permits, trade permits, incomplete wall test, or inspections reports.
  2. As soon as the application has been accepted, it will be routed for concurrent review to the required divisions and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), if applicable.  
  3. Following the completion and approval of all reviews, and any required inspections have been passed, the C of O certificate will be ready for issuance.
  4. Invoices will be sent via email to the applicant to pay the fees.
  5. Upon receipt of fees, the certificate will be sent by email to the applicant.

4. What supporting documents must be submitted with my C of O application?
    The following documents are required to be submitted for all C of O applications, regardless of type:

  1. Authorization Form – if a hired agent is completing the application form on behalf of the applicant (insert link)
  2.  Lease, deed, letter of permission from property owner to use the property, HUD-1
  3. Building Permit, if applicable
  4. Most recent C of O on record
  5.  ALL rough/close-in and Final inspection reports
    • If performed by a third party agency, reports must be uploaded to Accela Mobile Office (AMO) prior to submission of C of O application
  6.  A Special Inspections Final Statement of Special Inspections - As required
  7. Green - This will all depend on the designation that the project has taken:
    • Green Building Communities:  Update GBC folder 60 days prior to C of O application
    • LEED:  Financial Security (i.e. Binding Pledge, Bond, Escrow cash etc.) for Green Building Act compliance must be submitted with the C of O application  
    • Reference the list of C of O supporting documents here. Please note, it is likely that additional documents may be requested during the review process.

5. What is required to be submitted for properties that are subject to a Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) or Zoning Commission (ZC) Order?
For buildings subject to a Zoning Commission (ZC) or Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) approval, the Office of Zoning Administrator will verify the applicant’s compliance with the conditions of the Order prior to the approval of a C of O.  The applicant is required to provide a letter or matrix, with attachments as necessary, from the property owner that documents compliance with the conditions of the Order.   This information must be submitted to DCRA with the C of O application. Be sure to include this information along with the C of O application and other supporting documents when you apply for a C of O or your application will not be deemed complete and will not be accepted by DCRA for review.

6. When is a CCO issued?
A CCO is issued when the building, structure, or portion thereof may be safely occupied even if the work required under the issued permits is not complete. Review the Guidelines for the Issuance of Conditional Certificates of Occupancy and related checklist for the submission requirements and DCRA review and approval process.

7. What inspections are necessary for CCO issuance?
All inspections identified in question #13 of this document plus an oversight inspection may be required prior to CCO issuance. A zoning inspection may be required to verify parking and loading, inclusionary zoning (IZ) units, and if the development obtained zoning approval from the Zoning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustment, an inspection to verify compliance with the Order conditions and/or additional documentation from the owner will be required prior to the issuance of a CCO.

8.  What are green requirements for a CCO?

Green Building Act (GBA) projects must demonstrate the building is on track to certification. Privately funded GBA projects must also provide a financial security.  Green Construction Code (GCC) projects must have conducted a Rough and Final Green and Energy Inspection along with all applicable documents. GCC inspections must be conducted by a DCRA building inspector or an approved Third Party Agency specifically approved for Green and Energy Inspections. For more information please visit Green Building website.

9. May multiple CCOs be issued for a single building permit?
Yes. For example, if the owner of a multi-family building would like to partially occupy units before the construction is complete, the owner or his/her designated agent may apply for a CCO as floors of the building are ready to be occupied. For a development with an inclusionary zoning (IZ) requirement, a proportion of market and IZ units must be provided and the COO application should specifically list the IZ units by unit number.

10. What is the maximum number of CCOs which may be issued for a project?
An applicant is encouraged to limit the number of CCOs for which they apply; however, there currently is no maximum number. A final COO that lists all floors, below grade parking, IZ units (if required), and ground floor retail (if provided) must be issued prior to the expiration of the last CCO.

11. What is the length of a CCO?
Typically a CCO is issued for 30-90 days, as recommended by the applicant’s Third Party Agency or DCRA for a property not inspected by a Third Party Agency.  DCRA’s Third Party Program staff will review all CCO applications and requests from Third Party Agencies for the duration of the CCO.  The CCO will bear an expiration date by which time the conditions of the CCO must be met.  If the applicant is unable to satisfy the conditions under which the CCO was granted, the applicant should submit another COO application, with a letter from the Third Party Agency explaining the reasons for which the conditions could not be met and a date by which they will be resolved. Advise DCRA if you have a special circumstance which warrants a CCO of greater than 90 days.

12. How long after an applicant submits a CCO application is an inspection to be scheduled?
If a zoning or oversight inspection is required, it will generally be scheduled within 3-5 business days of the submission of a complete application.

13. When is a Core and Shell C of O required?
A Core and Shell C of O is not required unless the applicant will be seeking a CCO for the building. DCRA will issue a Core and Shell C of O if requested by the owner for financing or other reasons. A Core and Shell C of O does NOT allow occupancy of a building, rather, the issuance of it signifies that the Core and Shell have been fully constructed, consistent with the approved building plans and are operational.  

14. My project intends to request a CCO.  When should we come in for a Core and Shell C of O?
Once all the Core and Shell inspections are complete, reports are submitted to DCRA’s third party inspections staff and approved.

15. What steps are necessary if an applicant intends to operate a newly constructed parking garage prior to obtaining a C of O for the building?
A Core and Shell C of O is not required to occupy the garage. The applicant shall obtain a CCO to occupy the building while construction of the rest of the building continues.

16. Is it permissible to start construction on a Tenant Layout (TL) permit prior to issuance of the Core and Shell C of O?
Yes, once the TL permit has been issued, construction may begin. However, a Core and Shell C of O for the building must first be issued prior to issuance of a either a conditional or final C of O for the tenant space.

17.  What inspections are necessary for Core and Shell C of O issuance?

  • Special Inspections
  • Mechanical Final
  • Plumbing Final, including fire suppression system hydrostatic inspection
  • Electrical Final, including fire alarm system test
  • Fire Final
  • Have at least one working elevator
  • Approval of the Wall Check
  • DCRA Green Rough-in Inspection
  •  Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Stormwater Regulations (Final Approval Notice (FAN) issued to applicant by DOEE) and Green Area Ratio (GAR) compliance (DOEE inspected and approved Landscape Checklist)
  • Core and Shell building inspection (Last inspection to be completed)

18. If required, must the green roof be completed prior to the Core and Shell C of O?  
In certain circumstances, an applicant may not be able to fully complete the installation of a green roof before the Core and Shell C of O is ready to be issued.  In those cases, the applicant must contact DOEE and obtain their approval to delay the installation of the green roof. For example, the winter months may not be an appropriate time to install a green roof.  Even if the Core and Shell C of O is issued with a partially installed green roof, the green roof must be fully installed prior to the issuance of the final C of O for the building.  

19. What is required to obtain final Stormwater and GAR (Green Area Ratio) approval from DOEE and must it occur prior to the issuance of a Core and Shell C of O or CCO?
The operating guidance for I&EB Stormwater Management Plan (SWMP) “sign off” on projects that require SWM Best Management Practices (BMPs) include:

  1. An approved DOEE final inspection for construction of the approved SWM BMPs and
  2. An “As-built Plan” is submitted to DOEE for review and is approved.  
    • The As- built is required to be submitted within 21 days of the Final Inspection.  Upon approval of the As-built a Final Approval Notice (FAN) is issued to the Stormwater Plan owner and their agents. The FAN represents final approval for SWMP compliance.  

With respect to projects where GAR is required, the completed Landscape Checklist is required to be completed by a certified Landscape Expert and forwarded to DOEE’s GAR Office. The completed Landscape Checklist represent final compliance for GAR required for inspection the I&EB. DOEE does not oppose the issuance of Core and Shell or CCO on projects where SWM is required but not completed; however, the applicant is advised that the final C of O will not be issued until the final SWMP inspection has occurred and the applicant has submitted the as-built plan to DOEE.

20. When should I consider and plan for phased occupancy?
The best time to consider the future phased occupancy of the proposed building is during the design phase. DCRA encourages owners to consult with their design professionals to develop building plans that will support phased occupancy.  If questions arise during this process, the applicant can request a Preliminary Design Review Meeting (PDRM) to discuss questions with technical staff. To schedule a PDRM please visit DCRA’s website dcra.dc.gov/pdrm.

21. What is the process to obtain a C of O for phased occupancy?
A project completes work under a Core and Shell building permit and then applies for and obtains a Core and Shell C of O.  This ensures that life safety systems are in place. After the Core and Shell C of O is issued, a final or conditional certificate of occupancies can be applied for each space in the building as it is completed under separate building permits.  See examples below:

Examples of Phased Occupancy:

  1. 1. A 10 story new spec office building with a grocery store on the first floor and one tenant who secured  plans for occupying the 9th and 10th floors.  Additionally, a 3 story underground parking garage is being built first.  The developer would like to have tenants occupy spaces as they come online.
    • Process
      • i.    The parking garage is completed first under a building permit.
      • ii.     The Core and Shell building is completed under a building permit.
        • The owner applies for and receives a Core and Shell C of O.  No spaces can be occupied under a Core and Shell C of O, but the owner may apply for a CCO to occupy the building.
        • The owner applies and receives a CCO to use the parking garage.  If the owner wants to use the garage before the Core and Shell C of O is complete, they can apply for a CCO for the garage space.
    • The grocery store is completed under a tenant layout permit.
      • The grocery store applies for and receives a C of O to occupy the grocery store.
    • The 9th and 10th floor tenant completes work under a tenant layout permit.
      • The tenant applies for and receives a C of O for the 9th and 10th floor only.
      • To note, all the certificate of occupancies that are being received, are the final C of Os for those spaces.
      • As the 2-8 floors are completed under a series of building permits, each separate tenant will be required to receive a C of O.
      • None of the C of O issued for the spaces above are “conditional”. They are the final C of O for those spaces.  If there were conditions, then they would be issued as CCOs that would allow for the spaces to be occupied for a period of time until the conditions can be fulfilled.
  2. A 10 story mixed use multifamily building with three retail spaces and a restaurant/bar on the first floor. Floors 2-10 are all multifamily residential spaces and the owner plans on finishing it one floor at a time.
    • Process
      • The Core and Shell building is completed under a building permit.
        • The owner applies for and receives a Core and Shell certificate of occupancy.  No portion of the building may be occupied under a Core and Shell C of O.
        • After the Core and Shell C of O has been issued, the applicant may apply for a CCO to occupy the leasing office.
      •  Build-out of the three retail spaces and the restaurant/bar space is completed under four separate tenant layout permits.
        • The operators of each retail and restaurant/bar apply for and receive a C of O to occupy their respective spaces.
      •  The owner finishes one residential floor at a time starting with the 2 and 3rd floor under one building permit.
        • As each floor is finished, a CCO is applied for and received for each floor.
        • After all of the multifamily floors (2-10) are completed, a final C of O is applied for that covers the 2-10 floors. The final C of O would also note the presence of any IZ units by unit number, the total square footage of the retail/restaurant space, and any below grade parking.
  3. New 5 Story Hotel and the owner wants to occupy floors as they are completed.
    • Process
      • The process will be the same as the multifamily building described.

22.  How do I schedule a meeting to discuss a Third Party Agency-related C of O?
If building inspections have been conducted by a Third Party Agency, please contact DCRA’s Third Party Program staff, Ms. Tamika Jones by email at Tamika.Jones@dc.gov at to schedule a meeting. DCRA suggests that a meeting be held with the Owner, General Contractor, and DCRA to discuss phasing plans and confirm that Conditional Occupancies are possible and that the minimum requirements are being met. This is especially important if you have a Zoning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) Order.

23.  Is a C of O required for residential projects?
A C of O is required for residential buildings that consist of two or more dwelling units.   A certificate of occupancy is not required for a single family dwelling. In the case of a single family dwelling, an approved building final inspection is required prior to occupancy.

24. Is a C of O required for individual office tenants in an office building?
If a valid C of O has been issued for office use for the entire building, an individual office tenant is not required to obtain its own C of O.  Occasionally a tenant will want to obtain its own C of O for financing or other reasons.  In those cases, DCRA will issue a C of O after the applicant submits the application, pays the application fee, and provides a copy of its lease or letter from the property owner giving the applicant permission to apply for the C of O.

25.  An existing office building with a valid C of O is fully renovated.  Is a new C of O required?
If only interior renovations occurred, with no change to the layout, the amount of square footage, the use, the occupant load, and the ownership of the building is the same, a new C of O is not required.