Can You Live in an Office Space (Commercial Property)?

Living in an office or commercial space is not allowed in most states. Different states in the United States have zoning laws that group properties into zones. Properties belong to standard zones like residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural areas, to mention but a few. If the property in question belongs to a combined zone (commercial and residential), and your landlord is okay with it, you can live there.

In areas with relaxed zoning laws, an agreement with your landlord is enough to have you in the clear. California, for example, has strict zoning laws. You cannot reside in commercial property unless illegally.

Living in commercial property will land you in great trouble with the authorities and your landlord. Before signing the lease agreement, check for clauses that involve residing in the commercial property.  

Can you rent and live in an office space?

Renting a space involves the tenant, landlord and a lease agreement. You can only rent and live in an office space if the zoning laws in the area allow that to happen. Legally, living in an office is prohibited.

If the property belongs to a commercial and residential zone, you have nothing to worry about. However, you have to be transparent while renting the space. State that you will also live in the office.

Office spaces are listed under commercial properties. The amenities that qualify the property for listing as residential lack in office spaces. These include showers, a functional kitchen, bedroom or sleeping area and an easily accessible fire exit. Occupancy and fire codes restrict individuals from living in commercial buildings because they would be putting their health and safety in jeopardy.

Rent for residential spaces is different from that of commercial spaces. Most landlords have issues with allowing people to reside in office spaces because they cannot legally ask for rent from anyone living on their commercial properties. Moreover, their insurance prohibits the use of the space for anything other than a commercial business.

It may look like you are cutting costs living in a rented office space, but you are in violation of several laws. On the flip side, if the zoning law allows multiple use of commercial space, nothing is stopping you.  

Is living in your office space illegal?

Local zoning ordinances stipulate that you must solely use spaces zoned as business premises for business purposes. You and your landlord could risk a fine unless the office space is zoned as residential and commercial property. The illegality of living in office space is not only zonal. There are other requirements to be met before the authorities approve residential areas.

Requirements to be met for approval include:

  • Bathing facilities
  • Toileting
  • Living space
  • Two fire escape routes
  • Smoke detectors and CO2 alarms

Typically, employees would not need to be in the office at night. Some exceptional circumstances can have you working through the night but not permanently living there. Undeniably, it also depends on the type of work that goes on in the office. If it involves the use of dangerous chemicals, for example, no zoning agreement can allow you to reside in the space.   

Moreover, insurance will not cover residential occupants in a commercial building. That means is that if something were to happen, you would be fully responsible for the damage. To avoid a run in with the law, it is advised to use the building for what it was intended for initially.  

Can you live in a commercial property you own?

Whether you own the property or not, zoning rules apply. The fact that the property was initially listed as commercial property will put you in trouble. If you want to convert the property into a residential area, that is possible and only requires approval from the local planning authority. Otherwise, you’d still be committing the same offense as living in a rented commercial space.

In San Francisco, many office spaces are disused but with the zoning laws there, converting a commercial building into a residential area requires a lot of work. When you buy a commercial space in a building, the location has a lot to do with whether it is convertible or not.

An example is if you buy a commercial building in a residential area, converting it will be less of a headache than converting another in the business district.

Owning property means that you are the landlord. That means that you have the opportunity to approach the authorities and change the space from commercial to residential or mixed. You will be required by local zoning authorities to make the space livable. To make this possible, a lot of renovation must occur to add in basic amenities.

Why you can’t use commercial property as residential

Once local authorities approve a building as commercial, there are aspects that they look at. Such include the size, shared amenities, and the specific use of space. Additionally, planning authorities zone common areas for better legislation. Having a residential space within a commercial area makes it difficult to put laws applicable to commercial use of space.

Residential tenants are also protected by tenancy laws different from commercial tenants. That is one major reason why you cannot use commercial property as residential. Other reasons include:

Commercial spaces are not safe for residential use

In case of a fire outbreak, it would be difficult to make it out of the building. Remember, the window designs for commercial spaces do not allow escape. Commercial buildings have special escape routes, which you might not have access to at night. Lack of an accessible fire escape route disqualifies the use of commercial property as residential space.

Commercial spaces lack basic amenities

Unlike basic structures meant to be occupied for home use, commercial buildings do not have needed facilities. Such include a shower, functional and safe kitchen, space designated for sleeping and a living area. These are a must in any residential space. Therefore, offices and warehouses are disqualified.

Insurance does not cover commercial space occupied illegally

When applying for insurance, the landlord specifies the use of property either as commercial or residential. If a commercial property suffers a flood, fire or major damage, the insurance company will refuse coverage. Moreover, if a person is hurt at the illegal building, the owner will face civil and criminal charges.

It is simply illegal and a breach of contract

Unless the zoning laws of the specific area allow mixed use or conversion, you would be breaking the law to live in a commercial space. On top of that, the lease you sign when you rent a space clearly outlines whether you should live there or not. You are at danger of being fined and kicked out of the premises if the authorities find out.

Zoning laws are stringent. Every city, state, or community has its own set of regulations that you must adhere to, to avoid issues with planning authorities. You cannot live in an office space unless the area is classified as a mixed space (commercial and residential). If you are caught living in an illegal residence, you will suffer legal and financial repercussions. Make sure you get the proper permissions to avoid all that.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *