From the Forum – Certificate of Occupancy Basement — Seeking recommendation for architect/permit expediter

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Certificate of Occupancy Basement — Seeking recommendation for architect/permit expediter:

“I know that this topic has been addressed in the past but I am hoping for some current recommendations from the PoPville community. We have a basement unit that needs a Certificate of Occupancy. It is essentially up to code, we believe, but may require a few minor updates and possibly some window masonry. We are looking for an individual (could be an architect) or company that could handle any needed updates to the property in order for it to be to code while also dealing with inspections and expediting permits. Any referrals would be most appreciated!”

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20 Comment

  • Olivia Atkinson Cloyd, 202-276-199Nine. Architect and expeditor.

    • Be careful before going with olivia akinsan…do your research. Check track record and financials carefully.mthere are plenty of options in DC. Caution

  • Why go to the trouble. Someone on our street just lied and said they basement renter is their brother so they avoid needing a C of O.

  • Pablo Raw

    Is there a fire separation between bsmnt and the rest of the house? An idea would be for you to go to DCRA Homeowner’s center to ask for what documentation you need.

    • Out of curiosity, what is needed for a fire separator?

      • Pablo Raw

        Usually means that the basement ceiling should have a special assembly, a specific type of drywall (there are different choices of assembly); no connections between units and if there are any (like ducts) they should have fire dampers, if there are cables going between units, there are products that you need to put in the holes.

      • You need at least a 1-hr fire barrier between the two units. That means 5/8 inch drywall wall-to wall. Any hole for lighting, access panels, etc., need to be fire rated as well so you don’t break the fire barrier.
        We are converting our basement right now. There are many, many things to take care off to do this right. You need a 7′ ceiling height, with the exception of closets and bathrooms. That’s one of the main issues people have converting their basements, and underpinning is quite expensive. You need to be zoned appropriately for the 2-unit conversion, two means of egress into a bedroom, etc., etc., etc.
        We did the drawings and permit running ourselves. We called Olivia and others, but we opted to do it on our own because the things we were hearing from them were different than what we were reading.

        Most contractors don’t really know the code requirements for CofO, so you have to be careful to make sure they are doing everything appropriately.

  • My advice is abandon all hope. DCRA makes this so laughably difficult that it’s borderline impossible. In all seriousness, expect to sacrifice a total of about 5 full work days dealing with this, between multiple visits to DCRA and multiple inspector site visits.

    There’s no way to ascertain a complete and accurate list of documentation you need in advance, so gather as much of the material listed on the DCRA website and bring it in. You will wait 2-3 hours to get to the window, at which time they’ll tell what documents you’re missing. If you get lucky and the missing documents are minimal, you may be able to fill them out there, then get back in the queue and wait another couple hours to go to the same window. You’ll then repeat the same process at several other windows (for example, wait an hour to get your paperwork stamped at one window), another hour to get a receipt at another window, then more time waiting on line for the cashier (because, why oh why would you be able to get your receipt and pay at the same window?!)

    Once you get your documents in, you’ll most likely have to visit a separate office to register your property for rent regulations (this doesn’t mean you’ll be subject to them, but the city has to know what you intend to do with the property in order to make that determination). This may take another entire day to deal with.

    Once all documentation is complete, you will receive an automated phone number to call and schedule an appointment for an inspector to visit your property. Be aware that you will receive a date but no time window, so you should be prepared to wait at the property all day.

    Each inspector has a different personality and set of expectations, so there’s no way to predict what will come next. There are lots of obvious code violations that any inspector will catch, but there are also a whole host of issues that some inspectors will care about and others won’t. Some will simply never pass you on a first visit and will cite you for something as simple as “insufficient number of fire detectors.” It is impossible to correct these “infractions” on the same day, so you will be required to set up a new appointment and once again block out an entire work day to wait.

    At this point, you will be conditionally approved, BUT you must return to DCRA with the signed document from the inspector and once again spend several hours waiting on line to submit your documents. Oh and if you should neglect to bring your receipt from your last visit, they have no way of looking up whether you paid and you will be forced to pay again.

    One final note of warning: if anything at all is filed incorrectly, for example, if they type the address of your property wrong, you will have no way of fixing this without re-filing your application.

    Good luck and Godspeed!

    • this is painfully true although I think I only lost two days to getting permits and waiting for inspector to rent out my condo. Of course DC makes sure you write that check for the cashier FIRST cause they know plenty of people will give up half way through the process. When the inspector showed up to my building. He immdeidatley gave me attitude about not having an elevator and that the unit wasn’t ADA accessible…um, I had to explain to him that the bdlg was built in 1934 and was therefore grandfathered in. I think his lazy ass was pissed about walking up three flights of stairs. he spent probably 3 min n the condo and just put a mark on “Yes” for meeting all the criteria. Then he left and left his entire folder of inspections. I had to call DCRA and they were very apologetic “Oh no, we need all that paperwork” and then I had to be the one to drop that off…it was full of inspection reports. GOodgrief, where do they get the dumdums for these jobs?

      • If you got this done in 2 days, you’re a savant and should become a C of O consultant. People would pay good money to know your secrets.

        • I think Say What was just renting out a condo rather than trying to get a C of O for a basement. It sounds like the process for the latter is much more complicated.

          • Agreed. Sounds like Say What was refering to getting a rental license for a condo. Completely different story…

  • I recommend that all of my clients with tenanted properties consult Rent Jiffy. This is their whole business and they know what needs to be done. There is a comprehensive list in their FAQ about requirements for rental units. They will secure the permits and be present for the DCRA inspection of the property.

    • +1 – We used Rent Jiffy for our C of O and they were wonderful. They won’t do the contractor work, but they’ll advise along the way on exactly what your contractor needs to do, plus they deal with the inspectors. I can’t imagine going through the process again without them.

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