Beware of renting in mixed-use building

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Q: I’m considering renting an apartment in a building that has commercial space on the ground floor. There’s a restaurant and a dance studio. Are there issues I should be aware of and raise with the landlord before I sign a lease? –Pam M.

A: Renting in a mixed-use building can have some real advantages to residential tenants. The commercial neighbors may have businesses that tenants will enjoy patronizing — how handy if you find that you enjoy eating at the restaurant right after your tango lessons! But there can be some real downsides, which you’ll want to discuss with the owner (and perhaps existing tenants) before you commit.

First, find out how the commercial tenants pay for building services, such as water, electricity, garbage and common-area maintenance. You’ll want to make sure that the commercial tenants pay their fair share, either because these services are separately metered or charged to the commercial renters, or because the costs are allocated between the businesses and the residents based on actual use.

For example, make sure that everyone doesn’t have to chip in for frequent garbage collection (which may be necessary for the restaurant tenant) when regular weekly garbage service would suit the residential tenants just fine. A similar issue arises regarding security — the restaurant may have a doorman or even a security patrol, but do you need that? If not, are you still going to be paying for part of it?

Second, consider the impact on the residents’ quality of living from the restaurant and the studio. Is the restaurant adequately ventilated? No matter how good the food, you’ll get tired of smelling veal picatta every night of the week. Ditto with the studio — are they offering demure ballet classes, or exercise classes with high-volume music? You’d be well advised to confirm any answers from management with existing tenants.

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Next, consider some very practical issues. Unless you get a dedicated parking spot with your rental, you will be competing with business employees and patrons for space on the street. How difficult will it be to park? Find out also about access to your rental — will you share a common entryway? If so, will you end up paying for the maintenance of this lobby or hallway?

And will you feel OK about mingling with sweaty dancers or tipsy restaurant-goers on your way up or downstairs? In addition, if these establishments will be closed during part of the day or on specific days, will you be secure and safe as you leave and enter the building?

Finally, find out about the reputation of these businesses, and how long their leases will last. You may feel fine now about living upstairs from a nice Tuscan-style grill, but not so good when their lease ends in six months and a bar takes over the space. Though you can’t control who comes and goes in the commercial space, knowing that the current businesses have a long stretch left on their leases will make it less likely that unattractive businesses will soon become your neighbors. …CONTINUED