Certificate of Occupancy

The Arlington County Permit Office is CLOSED for in-person customer service. Many services are available online. Learn more.

A certificate of occupancy (CO) ensures that a building or a proposed use of a building/land complies with all state building code regulations and County laws. No occupancy can occur before issuance of a CO.

There are several types of COs. In general, only one is required for each project or tenant. Certain projects, such as large commercial or multi-family buildings, may require more than one CO type. A temporary CO may be issued by the building official when appropriate. COs are not required for additions to single-family dwellings. Tear downs are not considered additions.

COs apply to both residential and commercial projects. Before beginning the CO process, learn the difference between residential and commercial. Use the table below to determine when you must apply for a CO:

Submission Process and Inspections

Note: In-person applications are currently suspended due to the COVID-19 health crisis and Permit Office closure.

Before You Apply
COs are a complex process; the applicant may need to contact staff for a full understanding of requirements, fees, inspections, etc. Before applying for a CO, the applicant must first verify that the intended use is permitted by the Zoning Ordinance. You may contact the Zoning Division for information and/or may arrange an optional code consultation with the Inspection Services Division (ISD) before signing a lease, if there is not a building permit associated with your project.

The applicant must also apply for any other permits required for the project. Applying for a building permit and applying for a CO are two separate processes. We recommend applying for a CO when a building permit is issued, but keep in mind that the inspection processes are different.

Step 1: Apply for the CO
You may apply by email or in person. Fees are due along with the application. Apply as early as possible, at least two weeks prior to the intended occupancy date. COs do not expire (with the exception of temporary COs).

Just because a CO has been applied for doesn’t mean the building can be occupied or opened for business; this can only be done after the CO has been both approved and issued. Additional documents are required for certain uses (ex: restaurants must submit capacity certificates and parking plans). Review the submission requirements or contact Zoning for more information: 703-228-3883.

Step 2: Staff Review 
Multiple departments review submitted applications for compliance with various ordinances, site plan conditions, use requirements, etc. Applications are not reviewed simultaneously, meaning the applicant will receive approvals/rejections at different times. It is the applicant’s responsibility to take this into account.

The CO review process will be delayed if the applicant hasn’t received approval or forgot to apply for a permit altogether. If there are questions about a specific permit, follow up with the department or division that the permit request was submitted to. To check your CO’s review status, visit the permit inquiry, enter your CO number and click View Comments. Next, click View Required Plan Review, which will broadly describe requirements. Staff may determine that additional information is required.

Step 3: Inspections
After the CO application is approved (and, if applicable; approval of the final building permit inspection), the applicant must contact Zoning in order to request an inspection: 703-228-3883. This request must be made before 4:30 p.m. every Thursday (unless it is the third Thursday of the month, in which the request must be made before 12 p.m.). For example, if a request is made on Monday, June 10th, the inspection will typically occur sometime during the week of June 17-21. Once the request has been made, a Zoning inspector will contact the applicant to schedule the CO inspection. Once scheduled, inspections typically occur the following week.

If there are building plans/a buildout involved with the application, be mindful that there are separate inspections required for COs, building permits, Land Disturbing Activity (LDA) and any other permits. It is the applicant’s responsibility to coordinate these inspections. If the application involves curbs, gutters, sidewalks or signage, contact DES: 703-228-6570. Uses such as daycares and restaurants require extra inspections and licensing, which should be coordinated with the respective department/division.

Once the Zoning inspection is complete, the applicant will be contacted about the outcome: approved or rejected. If approved, proceed to Step 4. If rejected, the applicant should coordinate with the Zoning Inspector about the reasoning for why they were denied and receive guidance on how to comply.

Step 4: Final CO Approval and Issuance
If approved by the Zoning Inspector, the applicant must contact the CO Coordinator in order to complete the inspection process: 703-228-3800. The CO Coordinator will confirm all approvals and sign-offs before approving the CO for issuance, and will inform the applicant if anything is outstanding. If there aren’t any other permits associated with the project, the Coordinator will contact the applicant to schedule a life safety inspection.

To check inspection results, use the Inspection Detection online tool.

Once all approvals are confirmed, the Coordinator can approve the final CO. Once approved, the CO can be picked up from the Permit Office. After 5 business days, the CO will be mailed to the applicant.

Submission Requirements

Submission requirements change based on the type of building, use of the building/space, etc.

General

  • You must complete a CO Application.
  • If a building permit is associated with your CO application, provide the permit number.
  • If you don’t have a building permit, list the previous tenant’s use and floor plan.

New Single-Family Dwelling

  • You must complete a CO Application.
  • 4 copies of wall check plat
  • 2 copies of final plat

Change of Tenant/Use

  • If the building is a restaurant, see the Restaurants and Outdoor Cafe requirements (below).
  • If the building is not a restaurant, see the General requirements (above).
  • If a building permit is associated with your CO application, indicate that and provide the building permit number.
  • If you don’t have a building permit, give the previous tenant’s use and floor plan.

Short-Term Uses or Special Events

  • Not all short-term uses are special events, but all special events are short-term uses and may require a CO. Call 703-228-3883 if you are unsure.
  • You must complete a CO Application.
  • When erecting temporary tents, if the collective total area of touching tents is over 900 sq. ft., you must apply for a commercial building permit.
  • Provide a plat of the property showing property lines, placement of the tent(s), locations of flaps or walls on/in the tent(s), and any fencing.
  • Provide two (2) copies of plans for the Capacity Certificate, per the requirements.
  • Provide specifications that show the tent(s) that will be used to meet the requirements for flamespread of NFPA 701. Include in the layout plan:
    • The tent, the location of all tent exits, and any fencing on the site as well as fence opening locations and size.
    • The tent, all seating, stages, tables and any other furniture.
    • The requested number of seats and requested occupant load.
    • The location and quantity of any generators.
    • The location and quantity of toilet facilities and fixtures.
    • Dates of the event on the plans (ex: Oct. 30, 2019 to Oct. 31, 2019).
  • Coordinate with the Fire Department about fire prevention measures.
  • If the short-term use or special event features amusement devices, see Amusement Device Permit.

New Commercial Buildings (including Multi-Family Residential Buildings)

  • You must complete a CO Application.
  • You must provide a building permit number.

Restaurants and Outdoor Cafés

Daycare

Fees

Fee Schedules provide the range of fees charged for each type of application or activity related to land development in Arlington. Fees cover permitting, plan review, enforcement, inspection, service delivery, performance agreements, and conditions. There are separate fee schedules for Inspection Services Division (ISD), Zoning, and the Department of Environmental Services (DES). Some permits involve fees from more than one schedule.