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Rent Coach: Should I rent an apartment above an empty storefront?

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Q. I just saw an amazing apartment in a new rental building.  The apartment is perfect and I’m so close to pulling the trigger, but I have one remaining concern: It’s on the second floor above a vacant retail space that the landlord will ultimately rent out. 

How do I know what type of business will be there and what kind of impact it will have on living in the apartment?

A. The permitted uses in the retail space will be governed by what the building owner decides and local zoning law.  

Determining what the landlord will actually allow at the space will likely be very difficult to do. Zoning laws can be equally difficult to interpret if you have no familiarity with them, and the rental of an apartment doesn’t typically warrant hiring an experienced real estate attorney to figure things out.

Your best bet is to speak with the landlord about their intentions for the space.  If they tell you that they will not allow particularly disruptive uses such as a restaurant or bar, consider negotiating with the landlord to protect yourself in the case that such use is later permitted. 

You’re not going to be able to prevent the owner from bringing in a restaurant tenant, but you might be able to negotiate for a contract provision that allows you to terminate the lease in case such a tenant later opens up in the space. 

Of course, if the landlord tells you that they intend to allow such a business, then you will need to decide up front whether or not that is something that you can live with. 

If you decide to move in anyway, you may still have recourse if the new establishment is loud or otherwise a nuisance, but enforcing those rights may require you to put up with a lot of hassle and could even require that you settle the dispute in court.


Mike Akerly is a New York City real estate attorney, landlord, and real estate broker. He is also the publisher of the Greenwich Village blog VillageConfidential.  

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