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Always look at zoning before you sign a commercial lease

Leasing a space for a commercial venture is only one aspect of an enormously complex process -- one where many things can go wrong before you even open the door for business. One of the most common complications that businesses run into with commercial leases is the matter of zoning restrictions. Failing to understand how zoning impacts your business may mean the difference between the perfect location and a total lemon.

Zoning regulations restrict or allow certain kinds of uses for different properties depending on where they are located. This is why it is usually uncommon to see a storefront in a residential neighborhood. However, zoning is often very, very specific. Therefore, just because a property is in a business-supporting zone, that doesn't mean it is a good fit for your needs.

If, for instance, you wish to open a restaurant, you need a number of permits, and you must be able to meet certain requirements to get these permits. Even if the previous tenant had a restaurant on the site, that does not mean you can automatically get a permit for a restaurant. The previous owner may have obtained a variance or special permission to use the property in a way that violates zoning.

This only scratches the surface of the many issues zoning includes. Make sure that you have a clear understanding of all zoning issues affecting your potential commercial lease before you sign on the dotted line. In many instances, the leasing party is not obligated to inform you of potential zoning complications, and you might find yourself on the hook for rent that you can't pay because you can't open the business. Use all your legal resources to protect yourself and your rights before making a mistake that may sink your business opportunity before it even gets off the ground.

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  1. Charles W. Dobbins, Jr.

    Charles earned his J.D. degree from the University of Virginia in 1974

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