I practice arts & entertainment law in Colorado, have co-created a local cooperative artistic space, volunteer services to artists, and socialize in arts and Burning Man communities. I live and breathe arts in community.
So, when I heard about the tragedy in Oakland’s GhostShip, I was hit particularly hard. I didn’t know any of the victims directly, but many of my friends did. My mind quickly turned to our Colorado DIY spaces—what were they feeling, what were they scrambling to correct in their safety approaches, and how could I help? Not surprisingly, I found that artists in Colorado are grieving and also fighting to keep their spaces up to code in the face of increased interest from safety agencies.
At a recent gathering of artists running DIY spaces, I heard a lot of confusion and uncertainty about the lay of the legal landscape. Watch this space over the next weeks as I pen a blog series that answers questions many spaces are having and elaborates on these top issues for DIY creative spaces.
1. Your Use of the Space Needs to Match Your Zoning Classification
In most cities, you can run an Internet search to double-check that your space is zoned for the type of activity that you conduct. If you cannot find a quick answer online, you may need to call the building and permit department to find out.
Pay closest attention if you are a work/live space. If you run your space out of a residential area, and your space is zoned for residential use, be aware of the limitations to how many non-related people can be living in the same space. For industrial spaces that are zoned for mixed use, check to ensure that you have zoning for residential use and that your space has been issued a certificate of occupancy.
Zoning violations may expose you to eviction. If you are out of compliance, consider an immediate change in use to match the zoning.
2. Even if You’re Cool with the City, You Still Need to Stay Cool with Your Landlord
Cities and safety officials aren’t the only ones that are nervous about safety in your space right now. Landlords have their hackles up, also.
Review your lease to make sure you aren’t doing anything that would warrant you getting evicted. Does the lease acknowledge how you are using the space, in reality? If not, was the landlord clear on how you were going to use the space when you moved in? If you and your landlord are out of sync about how you are using the space, do your best to fix the situation. This could be anything from changing how you are using the space to having a frank conversation with your landlord, depending on your relationship.
3. Building Code Violations Should be Your Biggest Concern
City and agency officials in Denver are taking a proactive stance toward ensuring the safety of live/work spaces. While it may feel like a witch hunt, it’s not. The last thing the City wants is for another tragedy to occur in Denver. So, if your building is targeted for inspection, be cooperative, be cordial, and communicate that you share safety concerns. The more professional you remain, the better an outcome you can expect.
The International Building Code (IBC) is complex, and most cities adopt bits and pieces as local Code. So, don’t expect to understand it all. Talking to other spaces and understanding what issues have created problems in the past will be a huge guidance. In general, and irrespective of what city you are in, pay attention to:
- Do you maintain the limits on how many people live and attend events in the space?
- Your fire extinguishers must be charged and inspected on schedule. You must have enough fire extinguishers; and you may also be required to have more advanced fire suppression equipment.
- Your interior walls need to be made of the proper material.
- If you have live/work space, there are requirements regarding the square footage and how much space is non-residential.
- Your exit lighting needs to be self-illuminating—check the Code to make sure you have the right amount of the right kind.
- You need proper egress and your doors need to be up to code so they are easy to operate in case of fire. There are specific requirements surrounding garage doors.
- Rises in the floor and areas that are uneven need to be marked as required in the Code.
- If you have loft areas, the Code will have guidance on headroom, stairs, and square footage required for occupancy levels.
- Electrical systems and fuse boxes have specific requirements.
- Extension cords should not be over utilized or used instead of permanent wiring.
- Some types of gas canisters need to be tied down.
- If you hang art in gallery space, there are requirements that may apply to how densely that artwork is displayed
- You must be up to Code regarding bathrooms and running water.
Each space and usage has its own particular requirements, so it is impossible to list all the pitfalls here. There are independent contractors who will review your property for a fee and give you a feel for where you are in violation. This is if you don’t want your list of violations to come from the City.
4. Your Alcohol Policy Should be Up to Snuff
If you are serving alcohol at either private or public events, you need to have a liquor license or an exemption to having one. There are a number of ways to get licensing:
–Get a nonprofit to sponsor your event and use their license for your space.
–Club license—if you are a certain type of membership organization (most likely a social club), and you have been a member organization for three or more years, you could qualify for a club license
–Arts license—tax exempt, nonprofit arts organizations that sponsor productions or performances can obtain a license. You need to be registered as a nonprofit in Colorado and have federal tax exempt status.
–Gallery Special Use License—Your primary purpose must be to exhibit and sell art and you can obtain a license to gift alcohol at up to 15 events per year.
–Special Event License—If you are a certain type of organization (most likely a social organization), you can apply for a special event license. You are limited to 15 special event licenses per year.
–Membership Organization Exemption– If you are a certain type of membership organization (most likely a social club) you may provide alcohol to your members and their guests at a private function. You can charge for entry, but you cannot charge more to those consuming alcohol
Make sure that the individual named on your application is “of good moral character”. The license can be denied if they are not.
5. Even if You Have a Liquor License, Be Careful Who You Serve
Even with a liquor license, you will face serious issues if you serve underage drinkers or intoxicated guests. “Dram Shop” laws still apply and you may be liable for damages if you continue to serve a drunk guest and they injure someone.
6. Protect Yourself with Insurance
If you are running an organization with business or management elements, purchase some insurance. Protect your belongings with renter’s insurance. Purchase event insurance if you will be hosting large groups. Make sure you disclose to the insurance company exactly what you are doing on the property and always make sure you read and understand the policy before you sign. The devil is in the details with insurance.
7. Be Aware of How You Present Yourself on Social Media
Cities and agencies use social media to locate potential issues with DIY spaces. Insurance companies will scour your social media postings if there is an accident in your space. Always review your posts with the assumption that those who want to create issues for you are reading.
8. In Denver, You May Need a Cabaret License Also
If you hold events in Denver at which there is live or recorded entertainment and dancing, you may be required to hold a cabaret license. Depending on how you receive permission to serve alcohol, you may not be required to get a cabaret license. So, check up on what is required in conjunction with your liquor license. Special rules and exemptions apply for club, arts, social and special events.
If you need more information or help with these or other topics for your DIY space, please contact Caroline Kert us via www.danieltgoodwin.com.