Studio Search: 10 Questions to Ask Before Signing a Lease
Looking for a new, or perhaps your first, art studio? With spring studio tours just around the corner, here are 10 questions to help you along your studio search journey.
While you are visiting potential spaces, remember to always put safety first. If the building is a well-known arts space in your community, you are probably in good hands. However, some commercial spaces are lesser-known and may not be as safe. Be informed about the name of the person you are meeting and bring your cell phone along with if you cannot bring a friend to tour the space with you. If you can bring a friend, the buddy system will help when you forget to ask a crucial question or when you need a second opinion before signing the lease. If you are on the hunt and visiting multiple spaces, bring a notebook and write down the answers to your questions because it may be hard to remember all the details after seeing a few locations.
If you’re not quite ready to visit spaces because you are not sure what you are looking for, tour spaces of artists during open studios and building events to see how they utilize and transform their spaces. Begin a running list of what you would like to have in your space, such as size requirements, types of neighbors, windows, or lighting if you want to share your space with other artists, and more.
These are 10 key questions you should ask while you are touring your next potential studio space. They are not listed in any particular order but it will be important to touch on all of these topics to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
1. Is this an arts building or are there other artists & creatives renting here?
Certain buildings that receive large amounts of art fairs or open studio traffic will naturally have higher rents compared to lesser-known or frequented buildings. These buildings with higher traffic also have the potential to make more art sales. These buildings can be expensive and can cause you to reconsider renting a solo space or if you need to share your space with another artist.
2. Who are tenants neighboring this space?
Researching a little bit about your neighbors beforehand can be an important part of deciding your studio location. Don’t get creepy with it, this can be as simple as walking the hallways of the building or asking the leasing agent about the other tenants’ history or behavior.
I had a neighbor who used the entire common hallway as his exhibition gallery and also smoked inside his space (which filled my studio with his second-hand smoke). I’ve also had a noisy neighbor next to me who watched football and yelled at his TV during Sunday night football while I tried to make work. In this same space, above me was a Pilates studio and it sounded like I was in the class every evening.
It’s also important to know what you want to use your studio space for and if you or your neighbors will be bothered by your noise levels. Are your tools or work habits noisy or do you prefer to listen to loud music? What time you prefer to work is important too. Note if the people or businesses around your space work a 9-5 or start in their space after the day job has ended.
This specific question isn’t just about the noise level, knowing if high profile artists are in the building or any non-profits, retail spaces or cafes can help decide if it would be a good move. If a busy or popular arts organization is located in your building, you could profit from that with traffic and sales too.
3. Is insurance a requirement of the lease?
If you were not planning insurance in your budget, a lease requiring additional insurance can add a few extra hundred dollars you didn’t factor into your studio plan. While insurance is always a good idea to have, some leasing agents require it of all tenants. Think about the worst-case scenario, a fire, a flood, or a break-in. Could you recover the loss on your own? If you answered no, maybe insurance is something to look into regardless of your requirements as a tenant.
4. What is the screening processes before becoming a tenant?
Some spaces require you to have a background check to verify employment, check the criminal background, and to view your credit. The leasing agents want to make sure that you are a responsible potential tenant before agreeing to let you rent their space. Make sure that you are very interested in the space before agreeing to background checks. Multiple checks on your credit can reduce your overall score. However, one or two checks on spaces you are really interested in shouldn’t be a problem.
5. What are the costs of the utilities?
It’s important to ask what utilities you are responsible for. You could be charged for water, electricity, trash removal fees or a few other utilities in your building. Ask if these are included with the rent cost or additional bills.
6. Is there heating and or air conditioning?
Some commercial spaces do not have regulated heat or AC. Depending on your comfort level, you can sometimes bring in your own window AC unit in the summer (which can sometimes lead to additional rent charges). Sometimes space heaters are allowed when it gets cold but these can be a fire hazard so be careful (consider that insurance again if you are going to utilize space heaters).
7. Are there any building issues? Who do you report maintenance issues to?
With older buildings or spaces that have transformed from one type of industry to a now rent-able art space, there will be some general building issues. Researching the building history can help tell you about what sort of problems have or could occur in the spaces. Ranging from just plain outdated spaces to leaky windows or roof damage, ask about any big issues or problems that have maybe occurred in this space.
Is also important to ask about who to contact if any future issues occur and also ask what you are responsible for repairing in your space. The most common responsibilities will be replacing your own light bulbs, garbage removal and recycling, patching and repairing holes you put in walls, repairing the damage you cause, and keeping your space clean.
8. How is security managed and what are building hours?
Ask who has access to the building and at what time. Some commercial spaces are always locked, which provides a good layer of security. Other buildings are always open or have daytime hours. Ask about the locks and access to the building and the locks to your possible space. Sometimes you can change the locks (to add better or more security) as long as you cover the cost of the change and provide the building management with access or a key. Do what you need to make sure you feel safe and that your studio space and art are secure.
Don’t forget to survey the neighborhood of your potential studio building. Warehouse and commercial buildings are not always located in safe areas of town. If you are in an area known for not being very safe, ask the building manager or leasing agent about any suspicious or criminal activity happening in or around the building. And remember to consider where you need to park and how far you need to walk to get to the building. Make sure this trek to and from your space is safe too.
9. What is rent and how is it paid?
Go into the space and studio hunt with a budget in mind. Be aware that utilities, space upgrades, deposits, and insurance could be a part of this budget as well. Plan a few budget options and set a rent limit for yourself. It’s also helpful to inquire how much your rates can go up each year. If you begin renting your space at your top maximum amount, you may not be able to afford to stay there long-term. Don’t forget to ask how rent is paid and when it’s due. Ask if a deposit is required for the space upon lease signing. Usually, your first and last rent checks are due on the day you sign a lease. Be sure to factor this into your studio budget plan.
10. I love the space, when can I sign the lease and move in?
When you find the perfect space, it’s best to sleep on this decision before signing the lease. Ask if there have been many people viewing the space and if there is much interest from other potential tenants. It may be good to view the space a second time or with a friend to make sure that this is the next studio for you.
This time between viewing the space and signing the lease can be used to help evaluate and prepare for the move. You can get in touch with your insurance agent to figure out possible rates and you can get your finances situated for a deposit payment. However, if there are many people interested in this space, you may need to pull the trigger and sign the lease.
When the lease is on the table, take some time to read through the agreement or have the leasing agent walk you through the key points for you together. A good leasing agent or manager will not hesitate to help you through the lease document especially if it’s a large multi-page lease. Someone who pushes you to sign before you are ready or before you have read through everything is probably not the lease for you. This is a red flag!
Once signed, congratulations! Enjoy your new creative space. This will probably not be your only studio, so learn what works well with this space and what you would prefer differently so the next time you’re on the studio hunt you have a better idea of what you need.