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Building Development Division

Use Groups & Certificate of Occupancy

Please see Policy 2.4 - Joint Occupancy Evaluation Program (This Policy replaced the Occupancy Evaluation Process.)

Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (VUSBC)
The VUSBC prescribes the minimum safety standards for structures and buildings constructed and maintained in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The VUSBC has adopted the International Building Code. Please see the VUSBC Web page for more information about the applicable code year.

Use Groups
Use group is the first factor that determines the safety requirements for a building. The purpose of a use group is to define how the building will be used. For additional information about the different use groups. see the Building Use Group Definitions.

Type of Construction
The type of construction is the second factor that determines the safety requirements for a building. The purpose of classifying the type of construction of a building is to account for how a building will respond and contribute to a fire. The VUSBC establishes five types of construction. The type of construction is based on the material used in the construction of the building (e.g. wood steel concrete masonry) and whether that material is combustible versus non-combustible or protected with fire-rated material versus unprotected.

Allowable Height and Area
Based on the use group and the type of construction, the VUSBC establishes the maximum height and the maximum area of a building. The VUSBC also provides for increases to the allowable height and area for a building with the installation of fire suppression systems, and with an open perimeter around the building. The taller and larger a building is, the greater the risk to individuals trying to exit the building safely, and the more difficult it is to fight a fire.

Certificate of Occupancy
A Certificate of Occupancy is issued at the time a building or tenant space is completed, the final inspections have been approved, and all final fees have been paid. The Certificate of Occupancy is the legal document issued by the local Building Official to indicate that a building is safe to occupy. The Certificate of Occupancy contains the use group, type of construction, the occupant load, use area, code year, and an indication whether or not a fire suppression system has been installed.

Once a Certificate of Occupancy is issued, the building/tenant space must be maintained under the code which it was built. Also, prior to the commencement of any renovation or reconstruction work within the occupied area, an Alteration and Repair Permit Application must be approved. A new Certificate of Occupancy is generally not issued with the final inspection approval of an Alteration and Repair Permit.

Change of Occupancy
A change in the use or occupancy of any building or structure which would place the building or structure in a different division of the same group of occupancies (e.g. A-2 Assembly use; Restaurant changed to a A-3 Assembly use; Worship Center) or in a different group of occupancies (e.g. Mercantile Group; Department Store changed to Business Group; Bank); or a change in the purpose or level of activity within a building or structure that involves a change in application of the requirements of the code (e.g. Attorney's changed to a Dentist's office).  A Change of Occupancy requires that the existing space meet the current VUSBC requirements. Certain use group changes are allowed under the Joint Occupancy Evaluation Program (Policy 2.4).  All other use group changes require you to start with the Tenant Layout Alteration & Repair Commercial Plans Checklist which must be approved prior to the commencement of construction work. Both processes allow for a new Certificate of Occupancy to be issued with the approval of the final inspection.