Certificates of Use and Converting Use Building Permits: A Brief Overview
With the hope to eliminate the confusion that surrounds the process to obtain a Certificate of Use, we prepared this short narrative. Please take some time to read it, as we believe it will save you time, money, and frustration.
Before we start, let me say (because this is where we see people get in trouble) since the fire and building codes do not have “one-size fits all” health and safety requirements, it is important to understand that just because a business used the space before you and the Zoning is okay, does not mean your business use of a space or building will not require updates. These updates may require hiring a design professional (architect or engineer) and contractors to bring the space into code compliance for your use.
What is a Certificate of Use?
A Certificate of Use, often referred to as a COU, is a Zoning certificate that confirms the space the business occupies complies with three items: 1) local Zoning ordinances, 2) the Florida Fire Prevention Code, and 3) the Florida Building Code. For some in depth reading on the Certificate of Use check out the City of Jacksonville’s Municipal Code Chapter 656 Subpart E.
Zoning approval is usually straight forward: Is the proposed use compatible with the Zoning of the property? Some common issues that can make Zoning approval more complicated include meeting the required parking for the proposed use, alcohol sales, or even outside dining. Be sure to disclose the full scope of your proposed use when discussing these items with the Zoning team. You do not want to find out a week before you hope to open that you need to rezone your parking lot (a process that can take five months or more). For more information regarding Zoning requirements, the Zoning team can be reached at Zoning@coj.net
Before the Florida Fire Prevention Code and the Florida Building Code can spell out what is required to maintain the minimum health and safety standards for your space or building, the State of Florida requires that you first define your Occupancy Classification. This is determined by your proposed use. For example, a restaurant is typically an Assembly occupancy classification; a car repair shop a Storage occupancy classification. Occupancy Classifications are even divided into groups to further define the health and safety requirements depending on the use of the space.
The occupancy classification is so important and determines many less obvious requirements. It is highly recommended a Florida licensed design professional be involved.
If your proposed use for a space or building matches the last certified occupancy classification group for the space (“certified” meaning all proper permits were pulled to ensure code compliance for that use) the verification of compliance with the Florida Fire Prevention Code and Florida Building Code for your COU is simple. We can simply verify compliance with records in our system.
Often the proposed use will not match the last certified use and this is when things become more complicated. Because the fire and building code have different requirements for the various occupancy classifications and groups within those occupancy classifications, a converting use building permit will be required to be obtained and finalized prior to the approval of the Certificate of Use.
Converting Use Building Permits
A converting use building permit is a separate process from the application you submitted for the Certificate of Use and will document and certify the Change of Use for the space/building. Florida law will require you hire a Florida licensed design professional to prepare permit documents, such as a set of plans, that will detail your use of the space/building and then demonstrate how it complies with the health and safety requirements of Florida’s fire and building codes. As you can see, these are state and not local requirements.
Even if no work is required to be performed to convert the use of the building or space to a new Occupancy Classification or even to a different group within an Occupancy Classification, a converting use building permit will be required. That said, many times work will need to be performed. If work is required to be performed, again per state law, you will need to hire a Florida licensed contractor to perform this work. This may include items such as adding a non-structural wall, updating A/C systems for ventilation, adding drinking fountains or mop sinks, or even adding new exit lighting. All of these items require a contractor.
Why Do I Need Drawings and a Design Professional? I Am Not Doing Any Work.
We often get this question, especially when a new tenant/owner does not anticipate any work to be performed.
When the scope of work includes a “change of use”, either in part or in whole, Chapter 10 of the Florida Building Code, Existing Building includes MEP requirements for a change of use. Compliance with these requirements must be demonstrated in the permit documents.
Evaluating a Space/Building Before you Sign a Lease
As a new business owner, you have already done your research to include all of the costs to open your business. Please do not neglect to count the cost of what it may take to bring a space/building up to the minimum health and safety standards the state requires for your business.
Consulting with a licensed design professional, contractor, or even a company that specializes in obtaining Certificates of Use before you sign a lease on that dream space can save you from renting a bag full of problems.
These professionals specialize in understanding the building and fire codes and can help you translate your goals, dreams, and budget into the permits and documents required to navigate the Certificate of Use process. As with hiring any professional, always talk to multiple firms, check references (and prices), and take any other steps necessary to ensure the person you are hiring is the best fit for you and your business.
Small Business Help
The City of Jacksonville understands that small business is critical to health and success of any community. To that end, the City has a webpage providing information to those opening a small business in Jacksonville. You can find that page at this location: https://www.coj.net/smallbusinesshelp
At the webpage, you can also find information on how to attend a Small Business Help session, where we will bring together City staff from Zoning, the Fire Marshal’s office, and the Building Inspection Division to answer your questions about the Certificate of Use process and whether or not you will need to also obtain a converting use building permit.
How to Obtain a Certifcate of Use
Certificate of Use Application
The first step for any business wishing to occupy a building or space is to apply for a Certificate of Use. A Certificate of Use is a Zoning requirement consisting of a (3) three tier review process requiring approval from all three of the following departments: the Zoning Department, the Building Department and the Fire Marshal’s Office. The municipal ordinance states that “any new multi family residence or business or any changes in; use, name, ownership, expansion of square footage occupied, or the inclusion of additional uses after May 29, 2006, will require a certificate of use”. An individual seeking to obtain a Certificate of Use must fill out the attached pdf application (both pages) and forward the completed application to the Zoning Supervisor and Zoning Administrator.
Please find attached the COU application. You will have to pay a $112.00 application fee. Once you have completed the application, you may take or mail the application to the Edward Ball Building, located at 214 N. Hogan Street, and take it to the Zoning Department located on the 2nd floor or email to Zoning@coj.net.
The Zoning Section will process the application and input the information in the Certificate of Use database system for review. Once an invoice is issued and sent to you the invoice can be paid in person at the Tax Collector office 2nd Floor Ed Ball Building 214 North Hogan Street or by calling the Tax Collector at (904) 255-8384.
Since the Certificate of Use is a three tier review process, the Zoning Section accounts for only one-third of the approval required for a business owner to obtain a COU. The remaining approvals must be obtained from the Building Inspections Division and the Fire Prevention Division. For all future correspondence, the Zoning section will reply with the Certificate of Use application number.
The next step after receiving Zoning approval, will be to submit a Building Permit for the proposed use of the space.
Architectural drawings with a permit application must be submitted to the Building Inspections Division for review and approval. The intended use of the space must meet the minimum occupancy requirements outlined in the Florida Building Code and the Fire Prevention Code.
A Florida licensed design professional must be employed to produce digitally signed & sealed scaled drawings to confirm that the building / tenant space is either in compliance with the building and fire codes, or proposed work required in the building/space to comply with these codes. The drawings and building permit application must be electronically submitted to the Building Inspection Division by a licensed contractor, a design professional, a private provider plan reviewer or a permit expediter. This process is required whether or not structural alterations occur within the space.
We have a feature for customers seeking an architect and/or engineer. Neither the City of Jacksonville nor its employees may recommend designers or contractors. The link provided is not based on any recommendation by the City of Jacksonville or any of its employees. The designers on this list have expressed a willingness to accept future clients with their design needs by registering to be on the list. However, inclusion on this list is not an indication of the quality or ability of the designer outside of state licensure. As with hiring any professional, it is advised that you ask for references and/or examples of their work before entering into a contract with any designer/contractor.
Building Permits for Certificates of Use
Building Permits need to be submitted through our electronic submittal process, by a Contractor or Design Professional. Please find attached the Electronic Plan Submission Instructions.
COU "No Work" Building Permits for Business Owners
If there is no work required to be performed, i.e. Building, Plumbing, Mechanical, Electrical or Fire, a design professional can submit the drawings Electronically to the Building Inspection Division. The other option is to make an appointment and bring two sets of original signed and sealed drawings to the Building Inspection Division, located at 214 North Hogan St., 2nd floor. To make an appointment, please call Tony Fields at 904-255-8211. Appointments can be made for business days between the hours of 9am and 3pm. Please do not arrive more than five minutes before your appointment time. The Building Inspections Division allows the tenant to act as an agent for the owner – With a letter (signed and notarized) by the owner or a copy of your lease if it contains language giving you (the tenant) permission to perform pull permits. Currently, the review time is 25 to 30 business days.