What home buyers need to know about the open public records act OPRA

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If you’re buying a home in Monmouth or Ocean County, New Jersey, you need to familiarize yourself with the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Kristen E. Johnson, Esq., a New Jersey real estate attorney with over 20 years of experience provides home buyers with a comprehensive understanding of OPRA.

The act is a critical tool for prospective home buyers, granting access to important government records, such as open and closed permits. These records can shed light on the property’s compliance with local codes and regulations, which is crucial information before finalizing your purchase.

With Kristen’s expertise in New Jersey real estate law, including foreclosures, condominium law, landlord-tenant law, and both residential and commercial real estate, these insights come from a professional who knows the ins and outs of the industry.

Understanding OPRA

The Open Public Records Act, commonly referred to as OPRA, is a New Jersey state law that was enacted to give the public greater access to government records maintained by public agencies in the state. The primary purpose of OPRA is to ensure transparency and accountability in government.

As a home buyer, you might wonder how this pertains to your property purchasing process. OPRA plays a significant role in providing you with crucial information about the property you are interested in. When a title company conducts a title search, for instance, it may not uncover all potential issues tied to the property. This is where OPRA steps in.

Access To Records

Under OPRA, you have the right to access various records from the building department of the municipality where the property is located. These records could include outstanding permits or open permits tied to the property. An outstanding permit could indicate that work was started on the property but was never inspected or officially closed out by the municipality.

On the other hand, open permits suggest that there’s work currently being done on the property. Both open and outstanding permits can affect your decision to purchase a property, as they could lead to additional costs or legal issues down the line.

To access these records under OPRA you would need to submit an OPRA request to the appropriate agency, typically the municipal clerk. The agency then has seven business days to respond to your request. However, under certain circumstances, such as if the record is archived or not readily available, the agency may take an extension but must communicate this to you.

Understanding OPRA is also beneficial when working with a listing agent. Being able to ask for specific records or knowing what to look for can give you the upper hand during negotiations and help ensure that you’re making a well-informed purchase.

Why is OPRA Important for Home Buyers?

Buying a home in New Jersey can be complex, especially when trying to uncover the hidden aspects of a property’s history. Thankfully, the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) serves as an essential tool for potential home buyers, providing access to crucial property records and insights into a property’s compliance with local codes and regulations.

Access to Crucial Property Records

Property records are a treasure trove of information, offering a detailed account of a property’s past. Thanks to OPRA, home buyers can gain access to these important documents. These records can include everything from building permits to certificates of occupancy, providing a comprehensive overview of any structural changes, renovations, or improvements made to the property over the years.

For instance, if a New Jersey home has undergone major renovations, there should be a permit on record detailing the scope of the work. This information can give you peace of mind knowing that all alterations were conducted legally and professionally. Furthermore, it can help you avoid potential issues down the line, such as discovering unpermitted work after the purchase has been finalized.

Insight into Property’s Compliance with Local Codes and Regulations

Another significant advantage of utilizing OPRA is the insight it provides into a property’s adherence to local codes and regulations. It’s crucial to ensure that the New Jersey property you’re interested in doesn’t have any unresolved code violations, which could lead to legal issues and financial penalties in the future.

Through OPRA, you can request copies of violation notices issued against the property. These documents will reveal whether the property has ever been found to be non-compliant with local building codes or zoning regulations. If there are open or outstanding permits linked to the property, it may indicate that there are still issues that need to be resolved before the property can be transferred.

Understanding the property’s compliance status can also impact your negotiation strategy. If there are compliance issues, you may be able to negotiate for a lower price or request that the seller resolves the issues before closing.

How to Submit an OPRA Request

Submitting an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request can be a vital step in your New Jersey home buying process. This allows you to access crucial government records which can shed light on the property’s history and compliance status. Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide to help you navigate this process.

Step 1: Identify the Relevant Agency

The first step in submitting an OPRA request is to identify the agency holding the records you need. If you’re seeking information about a property, the relevant agency will likely be the local municipal building department or clerk’s office.

Step 2: Prepare Your Request

Next, it’s time to prepare your request. Most New Jersey municipal agencies have a standard form for OPRA requests, which can usually be found on their website. If no form is available, you can submit a written request.

In your request, be sure to clearly identify the documents you need. This could include permits, violation notices, or any other government record related to the property. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, instead of asking for “all records” about a property, ask for “all open or outstanding building permits for [property address] from [specific date range].”

Step 3: Submit Your Request

Once your request is prepared, you can submit it to the appropriate agency. This can typically be done via mail, email, fax, or in person. Be sure to keep a copy of your request for your records.

Step 4: Wait for Response

After submitting your request, the agency has seven business days to respond under OPRA law. They can either provide the records, deny your request (in whole or in part), or request an extension if they need more time to gather the records.

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If your request is denied, the agency should provide a reason for the denial. Under OPRA law, only certain types of records can be withheld, such as those that would violate someone’s privacy or jeopardize public safety. If you believe your request has been wrongly denied, you may appeal the decision.

What Buyers Need To Know About OPRA

Leveraging the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) can prove to be a game-changer for home buyers. It provides unprecedented access to a wealth of information about potential properties, enabling buyers to make informed decisions and negotiate effectively. From unearthing a property’s past through various records to understanding its compliance status with local codes, OPRA equips you with critical insights that can save you from future hassles.

The process of submitting an OPRA request is straightforward and can be effectively navigated by following the provided steps. Remember, as a home buyer, knowledge is not only power, but it’s also your safeguard against potential pitfalls in your property investment journey.

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  • Kristen Johnson, Esq

    With over two decades of legal experience, Kristen E. Johnson, Esq. has been serving the Jersey Shore community. As the owner and principal attorney of her NJ real estate law firm, Kristen specializes in residential and commercial real estate. A Monmouth County native, Kristen is deeply rooted in the community. She holds degrees from Drexel University ('00) and Villanova School of Law ('03). Her expertise spans various areas, including foreclosures, Condominium Law, Landlord-Tenant matters, and residential and commercial real estate. Kristen's commitment to the field extends to education, as she also operates the Ocean School of Real Estate as a licensed educator.