The New Jersey Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) allows a buyer or seller to request documents from a municipality and other governmental entities that may provide important information about a property that is being sold or purchased. Under OPRA, a governmental entity must provide most documents for inspection, copying or examination in response to a request within seven (7) business days, unless a reasonable extension is needed to provide the documents. A request must be for specific identifiable documents and not be for information in general.

Buyers can submit an OPRA request for documents relating to a property to the municipality in which the property they are interested in buying is located.  The request should be submitted as soon as possible in order to allow time to deal with any issues that the documents reveal and because they may affect a buyer’s interest in purchasing the property. OPRA request forms are available from municipalities, typically on their websites.

A buyer may want to see open and closed permits for work at the property, documents      regarding any variance pending, granted or denied for the property, complaints filed by the municipality for code violations at the property, tax assessment information, inspections for environmental issues, water wells, sanitary disposal systems and underground fuel tanks for the property, and any document indicating if the property is in a flood zone.

A seller may need to use OPRA for historical research.  For example, a home inspector hired by a buyer finds evidence of an underground tank.  The municipality may have records to show that the tank was removed with a permit, or other pertinent information to alleviate a buyer’s concern.

The Open Public Records Act is a useful tool in New Jersey real estate transactions.

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