What is an OPRA request and how to make a request?

OPRA stands for Open Public Records Act. The essence of OPRA is to extend the public access to government records. Additionally, it is to specify which records are “government records” and which are not, as well as to provide an administrative appeals procedure if access is denied.

Who holds government records?

The director of a public agency or its governing body oversees or custody of the agency’s public records. A custodian has been selected by each public agency to manage records requests sent to that division or agency. According to OPRA, a “public agency” is:

      All independent governmental departments, authorities, and the state’s executive branch. All state universities and colleges are included in this.

      The Legislature of the state and any office, board, bureau, or commission created or established by the Legislative Branch.

      All counties, cities, towns, school districts, fire departments, zoning boards, and other county and local boards or agencies, as well as all independent county and local authorities constituted by municipal or county governments. (N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1.)

How to submit an OPRA request?

An application for access to a government record must be in writing and given to the right custodian in person, by mail, electronically, or in another way. Under the OPRA, a records request cannot be made verbally. Requests must be made in writing to the government organization that has physical custody of the requested records.

OPRA requests must be made using the agency’s officialOPRA request form. However, a written request that is not on the public agency’s formal OPRA request form cannot be rejected for that reason alone. Requests made in writing that are not listed on the form must specify OPRA. Considering this, if a requestor chooses not to use an agency’s official OPRA request form, he or she must nonetheless make a written request that expressly designates it as an OPRA request.

The records custodians of some government agencies might not have a dedicated fax line; hence they are unable to accept fax requests. Requests for access to public records may be accepted by some public agencies via email or the Internet.


Some governmental agencies have developed systems that enable a citizen to fill out an online request form and submit it to the custodian via the Internet. The mode of filing a request form (mail, in-person, Internet) has no effect on which records are or are not accessible. All the information specified in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5. f. must be included on the request form, whether it be on paper or electronically.

When obtaining records, requestors must be as detailed as possible. For instance, requestors must specify the kinds of records, the dates, the correspondents, the topic, etc. However, certain records’ names can be unknown to requestors. Although it is not an OPRA violation, the law intends that custodians should help requestors identify the data they are looking for. Questions or requests that seek information are not valid OPRA requests.

If a record is currently accessible and not in storage or an archive, custodians must respond to a request as soon as possible but no later than seven (7) business days after receiving it. The day after the custodian receives the request is Day One (1). A request is deemed to have been denied if the custodian does not respond to the requestor within seven (7) business days of receiving it.

Why make an OPRA request?

There are several instances where an OPRA request may be helpful. For example, If you are purchasing a home, it is good practice to make an OPRA request for all permits on that property so that 1) you can ensure that all permits have been closed and 2) major work that requires permits was done with a permit. In many states, open permits become the responsibility of the new owner. Therefore, in order to minimize risk, it is great to catch this early and work on a plan with the seller to ensure that it is closed. 

Another reason may be for civic engagement. There may be reasons to ask for public records to better understand how a government body makes decisions on important topics. 

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This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.