We have had many people email, call, drop in or comment here that said they purchased a home with a renovated basement that did not have a Certificate of Occupancy. Some had records of permits and inspections, some have nothing.
We can’t emphasize enough that if you plan to purchase a home and are immediately dependent on the income from a basement rental you need to ensure the basement has a certificate of occupancy or negotiate with the seller to ensure you have your costs covered. We have heard from at least 20 residents in recent months who were told by the seller’s realtor that getting a Certificate of Occupancy would be “no big deal.” In some cases these rentals were not even close to being up to code and would have put your tenant in danger. For others, getting the C of O was no big deal. But if you can’t afford to go through the process, make sure you get all the information before you buy.
We do understand that many of these potential basement apartments are either up to code or very close so we are trying to make the process smoother through communicating through this blog as well as process making changes at DCRA. So we have developed a new process that hopefully will save property owners time and money and get these units into productive use. While you are not actually doing any work in most cases, it is important you and the city have a record of permits and inspections. This is especially important for liability for you and helps increase the value of your home.
Previously, we required new plans be drawn by an architect or engineer for you to get building permits. We are now providing guidance on how you can submit your own drawings.
We are pasting the language from a new “One Family to Two Family Conversion Guide” below but essentially here is what you need to do:
- Draw your own plans on 11 X 17 paper and make the drawings to scale (i.e. one inch equals one or two feet) and include all of the details shown in the sample drawing provided in the guidance sheet. Apply for building permits.
- Once you get permits, you can get your own Third Party Inspector (we have a list here) who will sign off of the basement construction and hopefully give approvals and/or recommend any changes you need to come into compliance. The language in the guidance explains more on what they need to look for.
- Once you have approvals, you can get your Certificate of Occupancy and then get your Two-Family rental license.
Here is the exact language from the guidance document:
Existing two family dwellings without Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) are required to obtain a C of O. This requires the satisfaction of the permit and building code requirements which includes the following:
- A completed and signed Building Permit application form and four (4) sets of plans, showing that the existing conditions are in compliance with the building code. Note: If you plan to create your own drawings, please use the attachments as guidance.
- At the inspection phase, a certified/approved inspection report verifying that the building conforms to the approved plans with the general building code needs. This report shall include confirmation/verification of the fire separation of the units, the presence of the emergency means of escape to the outside from sleeping spaces, smoke detectors in each unit and separate electric service disconnect in each unit.
- The C of O issuance desk finally verifies that the inspection is approved by an approved third party inspection agency or DCRA. This confirms that the dwelling is therefore suitable to be classified as a two (2) family dwelling.
And here is the complete document: ONETOTWO_CONVERSION_GUIDANCE_FINALBETA
Not a Solution for Everyone
This process will make the conversion much quicker and less expensive for those with basements they believe are in compliance, but it is not a solution for everyone. If your basement does not come close to meeting code, for example the ceiling is 6′ 6″, you are going to need to hire a contractor and gets plans drawn to fix this and any other issues that require major construction.
What’s Behind the Walls
Several people have asked how inspectors will verify that the work you cannot easily see – i.e. electrical, fire separation, plumbing – will be verified and whether they will have to take out the wall. The Third Party Inspection agencies will work with you and find ways to verify the work is up to code without having to do major damage to already existing walls and ceilings.