Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, December 3, 2018

Opening a business: What is needed for a tenant improvement?

A retail with exposed pipes and plumbing connections. Concrete curbs to be demolished.
Personal archives

I am writing this post mostly for people who decide to lease their first retail to begin a business in California. Most of the times, they look at the place, if they like it, they go for it, without researching about what the City departments (and eventually Health Department) will request.
The fastest case, is to pass from a certain use to the same use (or similar) without any more changes than painting, decoration. In order to open the business, the City will request a business license. Let's say, from offices to offices for administration it is just a simple step, a floor plan could be needed if the City has no records of the property.
A complete different scenario would be from administration offices to medical offices, beginning with, the occupancy load (people that will be inside the building) will be quite higher.

The first duty from the tenant, and before signing a lease, is to go to the City Hall, Planning department, and ask if the new use is allowed. Second, how many parkings will be requested. And find out if what it is offered at the job site is enough. Take into account, that applying for a variance on parkings is a process that takes a very long time (in the meantime the rent must be paid), and most probably the result is negative. 
The broker (if there is any) not always has this information, or he/she could even hide the restrictions.

Let us suppose the use is allowed, and the parking stalls are OK. Then, the handicap accessibility is very important. Your retail must be fully accessible, even for employees. If not, this is discrimination.
Of course there is the "grandfather" clause which protects the existing construction, those that have very old permits and while there are no remodels, the structures can be kept "as is".

The slab that needs repair, the framing is still exposed. Personal archives

But if there is a remodel, everything has to comply with the current Codes. A percentage of the investment must be destined to accessibility improvements. A budget has to be disclosed, or at least it will be based on the valuation of works. If the improvements are very important, and there is no technical way to do part of them, a hardship form must be submitted to Building and Safety.

How does the tenant show the new accessibility improvements? Through the architectural plans needed for the Tenant Improvement (T.I.), as part of a package that could be completed with mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, plans and calculations, depending on the scope of works and type of business.
We usually begin showing on ADA and egress plans the exit signs, the Braille signs, interior improvements inside bathrooms. Then, if it's not enough for the amount of investment requested for ADA, we continue with the parkings. And this is related to ramps, sidewalks, signs, path of travel, etc. It means much more money than the tenant would imagine. 
Has the tenant the obligation to provide all of this? Yes, up to the established amount destined to ADA. Usually, the tenant has an arrangement with the landlord, while the tenant works inside, the landlord deals with the exterior improvements.
When the case is very hard to comply, the City could send an ADA inspector to find a Solomonic (reasonable) solution.

Old air conditioners, on precarious platforms. Will the AC units be enough for the new use?
Personal archives

Coming back to the plans for a TI, one common mistake is to believe that only one plan is needed. This would be a very minor remodel, minimum two plans are needed, a site plan with the parkings and surrounding buildings, a floor plan. For more important works, full architectural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical and (maybe) structural are needed. If the business is related to food, remember Health Department takes 21 business days to release the plan check comments. The tenant should negotiate with the landlord how many months of "grace" would be granted to allow the architects and engineers to prepare plans and comply with the plan check. The grace period varies between two or three months.

Here, though the bathroom has a good size, there are no ADA bars
Personal archives

We highly recommend for new tenants with little experience in this process, to consult an architect or experienced designer before proceeding to sign the lease if there is a change of use.
Some special changes of uses may take Planning Commission, and it is translated to months.
What the tenant should be aware of? 
First of all, if the retail business license is still active. After 6 months of having a revoked license or the place has been closed, the grandfather rights are expired. Everything has to be under the current Zoning and Building Code.
Let's say, you want to lease a restaurant, and it has been closed for more than 6 months. Brand new plans must be submitted if the use is still permitted. 

In a new food store, the kitchen does not have washable ceiling ties.
Personal archives

The rest is part of the typical construction documents that we should take care of. Basic questions:
Are the ceiling panels Ok for the kitchen (if any)?
Will there be preparation of food?
Are penetrations between tenants fire proof, as many hours as needed per Code?
Are there enough exit doors? Are they Code compliant?
What is the condition of the pipes, electrical panels, etc?
Is the Amperage enough for the new use? As a rough example, from a clothes retail to a yogurt store, obviously the panel would not be enough.
How is the parking designed? Is there any curb ramp, are there stripes on the lot, accessibility signs?
Is the bathroom compliant?
Are the clients able to use the restroom? 
Is the quantity of restrooms enough for the new use and new occupancy load?
Is the building historical? If so, which are the restrictions?
Is the type of flooring allowed?
Are the demising walls in their original location? ETC.

There would be other questions as well, but at least I am opening the readers' minds.
We are here to help. If you have further questions,

Existing penetrations from a restaurant on second floor to a retail on first floor. It has to be verified if this is fire rated. Personal archives

Here, the demising wall is not full height. Personal archives

Electrical equipment on a precarious platform. Personal archives

Non permitted ADA solutions that must be remodeled. Personal archives


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