dealing with town officials when buying pizza location

i found a closed down pizza shop in great location. here s my problem - i want to get a clear idea from town on what exectly they expect to be fixed, replaced or brought up to code before i open (health dep, fire dep, building dep., am i missing anybody?) but i can not get a clear answer or even if i get a clear answer, i am hearing that another person got another answer. could someone advise me an approach or strategy on how to deal with them, in a way that they be resposible for what they say and not adding requements after i sign the lease?
also, if u know of a book or any source of info of this type - please let me know

Hi Boston:

Our experience with the local officials is that, in many instances, you will not have a final definite answer as to what you will have to do to bring an establishment up to code until you apply for an occupancy permit and restaurant licence by submitting plans indicating what you intend to do to the establishment.

Until you have made those applications and been approved, the rules and requirements can change at any time.

Most building and health departments charge a fee for their services. Occasionally those agencies will give some advise to a prospective buyer but nothing is final until the licenses are issued.

George Mills

What George says is true.

Try checking with local contractors that work in the area. Most likely you will need one to do some work any way.

Some cities are better to work with than others but in the end there are no guaranties. I’ve seen situations where they have given approvals and then come back and require major changes.

Cities usually make allowances for “existing” businesses when they change codes and requirements but when a new owner comes in they may require the changes.

I think for someone who has been in the restaurant business they can probably make a good determination of whether any thing major needs to be done or not, but normally some time and money is going to be have to be spent to find out for sure.

George,
i understand and also dont understand. you say ‘submit plan indicating what i intent to do with establishment’ - but i dont have any plans - its a pizza joint and i want it to stay a pizza joint, i am not moving around anything, just want to put open sign on. so i dont understant what excactly must be approved. Do you think i can request a list of things from town officials needed to get my licences and permits, with my statement that establishment will be used the same as it was in a past, and do modifications only that i am requested to do?
pizzapirate, i get your point that they can change their mind later and request more major upgrades later, but dont you think it’s very wrong to say one thing first and than make me spend additional 30K just because “oh, i forgot to mention it to you last time” before i purchased the place, hired a lawyer, set up a corporation, wasted money and time?

It doesnt matter whether he thinks its right or wrong, it can and most likely will happen. I’m sure a lot depends on how long the place has been sitting and how many new codes they have upgraded, which you do NOT get grandfathered into…

You may have to rework plumbing, electrical, update fire safety equipment, hoods/exhaust, flooring/tiling, ceilings, most likely the walls need to be FRP if theyre not etc etc, the list goes on and on and on.

There may be a chance that some of what is there now may be “non conforming” under current bylaws…So when a new tenant or owner takes over the premises have to be brought up to code…

And yes they will give you a list of what needs doing…But it is usually the bylaws that you have to interpret…And that can be a challenge at times…They do not want to tell you a specific list because if they get it wrong and make you do extra stuff later on most folks sue them…

This is by no means complete advice, and there may be variables specific to your community or your building, but here goes:

  1. I would start with the lease. Make your commitment to the lease be contigent upon a limit of expense related to bringing the space to current code (or better yet, get the LL to cover those expenses, if any)

  2. Make the lease contigent upon receiving all governmental permits, licenses and passed inspections before any rent is due. (this takes care of the non-conforming use issue) In any case the lease, under intended use, should specify your intended use and that the LL represents that this use is permitted.

  3. Ordinarily, none of this should be a problem. In most places, continuing the most recent use requires no changes. Most changes in code are triggered by construction or remodel that requires a permit. This is not the case everywhere though.

  4. You can probably apply for the business license (if your area has such), and food service license before you have a lease in force as long as your LL agrees and get the answers you need.

Hope that helps.

Hello, I am a city councilman and also an owner who did construction/build-out of an existing structure. I recommend contacting the building department and/or health department and/or fire marshal and ask if they do “pre-construction conferences”. Use those words to begin with. The agents in my town were glad to hear I wanted to take it seriously, and spent a few minutes with me. It may cost a few bucks for an inspection fee, but well worth the investment. Our County does this sort of thing as a matter of course, as I remember the conversation.