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Ask an Expert: Can my boss actually live in the office?

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Q. Recently, my boss decided to move out of her apartment and into the office. Her bed is literally in the corner of our work space now, and there are clothes strewn about and dishes all over the place. There's absolutely no separation of work-space and personal-space. 
 
My coworkers and I can't come in too early, because who knows what we'll walk in on. Quitting time is confusing now, too, because typically when the boss leaves for the day it is safe for the rest of us to wrap things up…now what?! 
 
Aside from the fact that it's totally unprofessional and just plain disruptive to live in the office when you have 12 employees filtering in and out, the building is a commercial space. Isn't she breaking the law by living there? 
 
A.  Yes, this is most likely illegal as well as disruptive, say our experts.
 
"While the line between home and office has blurred over the last decade it has not blurred to the point where one has to work with their bosses dirty laundry," says co-op and condo attorney Dean Roberts of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus.  
 
The use of a specific premises is governed by the Certificate of Occupancy,  says Roberts, which gives a legal description of the property, such as the number of floors, number of units per floor and the type of use--residential or commercial.  In addition, zoning rules also govern use in specific areas, but are not building specific.
 
"There are some areas of the city, like the Financial District, zoned for live-work uses," says asset manager and real estate broker Roberta Axelrod of Time Equities. "However, this is geared to small businesses and limits both the amount of space that maybe used for commercial purposes and  the number of employees, to considerably less than 12."
 
So is it legal for your boss to bed down in the office?
 
"In the 80s and 90s, large numbers of commercial spaces in loft buildings were converted from commercial to residential use in acknowledgment of the fact that these former manufacturing spaces had been converted illegally both by owners and tenants for residential use," says Roberts. "Absent your work area being in such a building,  and from the fact pattern described, I would have to assume that it is illegal for your boss to live there."
 
Perhaps you and your co-workers can suggest a good broker to help your boss quickly find an more appropriate space, says Axelrod.
 

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