Your lease is a contract between you and your landlord. A lease can be for a short term (as little as one month) or long term, and it can be written or oral -- although a lease for more than a year must be in writing to be legally enforceable. Some people use the phrase "rental agreement" to describe a short or oral lease for which rent is typically paid once a month and the tenancy can be terminated on a 30-day written notice. To avoid confusion, we'll stick to the word "lease."
It's crucial to understand from the get-go that, practically and legally speaking, there are oceans of differences between commercial leases and residential leases. Commercial leases are not subject to most consumer protection laws that govern residential leases -- for example, there are no caps on deposits or rules protecting a tenant's privacy. Also, since a business will often need to modify the existing space (add cubicles, raise a loading dock, rewire, etc.), the terms of commercial leases are usually subject to at least some negotiation.
The following checklist includes many items that are often addressed in commercial leases.
For information about negotiating the terms of your lease, see Negotiating a Good Lease.
Note: Many businesses must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA requires all businesses that are open to the public or that employ more than 15 people must have premises that are accessible to disabled people. Make sure that you and your landlord are in agreement about who will pay for any needed modifications, such as adding a ramp or widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs.
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