city of chicago water certification for sellerThe City of Chicago Full Payment Certificate for Water

For every real estate closing that takes place in the City of Chicago, a seller must produce a “Full Payment Certificate” from the City’s Department of Finance indicating that all water and sewer charges and penalties that accrued to a water account are paid in full.  This Full Payment Certificate (FPC) is commonly known as a “water cert” or “water certification”.  A water certification must be obtained to record almost all deeds (even exempt transfers) to Chicago real property with the Cook County Recorder.  Getting a water cert is a common requirement for all Chicago closings.

How to Apply for a Water Certification

In order to apply for an FPC, a seller (or the seller’s attorney or, most likely, the seller’s attorney’s clerking service) will fill out an application.  The City of Chicago charges a $50 fee for a FPC plus any charges for outstanding or delinquent water bills.  Most clerks charge $50 to get a water certification for a seller.  Applications can be made directly at the Water Department or by emailing the application to the City.  In fact, it is not uncommon to see the floor of the water department littered with clerks waiting patiently to get their certifications for their clients.

The Problem

city of chicago full payment certification website

The City of Chicago website as of Feb. 24, 2016 indicating water certs are good for 60 days

Until recently, the City of Chicago’s website and the FPC form itself indicated that the FPC would be good for up to 60 days.  However, over the past few months, many attorneys are noticing that FPCs, especially for metered water accounts (as opposed to semi-annually billed non-metered accounts), are no longer good for 60 days.  In many cases, they are good for only a few weeks.  Just today, I applied for and received a water cert that is only good for about the next eighteen days!  This is probably going to cause a problem for my client.  This is, in a word, ridiculous.

Why?  First, what if the closing is going to be more than 18 days into the future?  We used to be able to rely upon the sixty day time frame.  No longer.  With the cert being valid for such a short time, many sellers will have to make a second application to obtain another water certification (and, of course, paying more fees to the City).  Also, as I understand it, it is IMPOSSIBLE to know, before actually obtaining the water certification, how long the certification will be good for!  Worse yet, certain water certifications may need to go out for “field review” which takes a MINIMUM of 14 days!  It now requires educated guessing to get a water certification that will allow a seller to close on time.

I’m going to continue to look into this phenomenon, but for now, real estate sellers in Chicago need to be aware that their closings could be delayed because their water certification might be expired.

Chicago full payment water certification application

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