Legal aspects coworking

Legal aspects for opening your coworking space are specific, unrelenting and – especially – overabundant. Between prevention principles, safety rules, comfort standards, and access conditions, there is enough to give you cold sweats before you even open. But have no fear! Here is our advice to avoid being overwhelmed by the wave of installation standards.

Knowing to surround yourself

If you only remember one piece of advice: enlist the services of an architect or design office. Unless you are buying or renting a coworking space ready to use, you will inevitably have to make adjustments, renovate the building, and adapt it for its future purpose. Only the skills of a professional will keep you from making mistakes and help you avoid financial issues from not obeying the law. You are handy and think you can do the remodeling without the help of a licensed professional? Beware: except for cosmetic work, you run the risk of violating standards imposed by the law. In other terms, do not do this work yourself; use professional expertise for greater security.

The status of your coworking space

Whatever legal status you choose for your coworking space (LLC, single member LLC, association, etc.), you will be considered a professional. As such, you are subject to the law governing commercial premises intended for receiving the public, Establishments Open to the Public (ERP). The law has set five categories for establishments in relation to their maximum capacity. Unless you want to set a new record for the largest coworking space in the world (which is currently 1000 offices in San Francisco), you will be in the fifth category, which includes spaces with capacity for 200 people or less. Luckily, legal aspects to respect are a little less stringent for this category of buildings. Download our white paper to know more on best practises to launch his coworking spaces.

Building permits and authorizations

The most important is undoubtedly applying for a construction permit. Renovations, additions, and construction require the proper permit, which you can get at the town hall. A security notice indicating the equipment installed in your coworking space must accompany your permit application. We strongly recommend that you let a licensed professional write this long and complicated document to reduce the risk that your application is refused. Wait until you have your permit before breaking ground and organizing a cocktail party for laying the cornerstone. If the response were negative, you would have to destroy any construction work. If you are refused, don’t panic: there are many solutions, through the town hall as well as the justice department. Simply plan on changing your opening date since processing times are long.

Fundamental rules of risk prevention and safety

Building security is one of the crucial points for planning your space, and state services do not joke with these types of standards. Carefully follow rules imposed by law enforcement, especially as insurance is also particular about this in the event of any problems. During the work period, be attentive to the layout of rooms and the materials used for constructing or renovating your coworking space. Risk prevention standards require that the layout and insulation of your space provide sufficient protection, especially for fire safety. Also make sure to meet the requirements for the number of fire extinguishers, emergency exits, alarms, and an auxiliary lighting system.

Legal aspects related to standards for sanitation, comfort, and accessibility

Once again, standards abound. From the number of sinks to ventilation to the availability of toilets, laws encroach everywhere. In terms of comfort, since your coworkers will bring some of their work tools, legislation will be a little less strict for a coworking space. If you install self-service desktop PCs, don’t forget to comply with regulations. When renting workspaces it is useful to know that size is largely unregulated. There are only recommendations for the allocation of sufficient space for each workstation. Under current laws, coworking spaces are only legally required to comply with the Code of Construction and Housing (CCH). The strict Labor Code does not affect them…for now! In fact, with coworking opening itself more and more to teleworking and employees, it’s possible that the legislature will ultimately decide to require coworking spaces to meet the Labor Code. Be vigilant when choosing the layout during construction, and expect heavier legislation. Pay special attention to accessibility standards for those with disabilities or reduced mobility. Since January 1, 2015, the law is much stricter concerning this for ERPs. If you are renovating a preexisting location, a disabled person must have access to all of the services offered in the shared part of your space.

Standards to be met in full

We do not list all of the legal requirements regarding business establishments open to the public. These are available in the Code of Construction and Housing (CCH), which regulates the construction of any building in France. Above all, do not ignore these standards! In the worst case, you risk going to prison. If the stunning mezzanine that you installed yourself collapses and kills half of your coworkers, the law will turn to the single responsible party: you. Less dramatic, but equally troublesome, noncompliance with construction and admission standards could put you out of business. Fifth-category ERPs are subject to unannounced visits from the security commission, which may be mandated by the prefect or the town hall. This same commission must visit and validate the safety of your establishment before you can open. In case of demonstrated non compliance with current standards, the commission can order you to update to meet the standards, or close your space. In either case, you can be certain that the bill will be steep. You were sleeping instead of checking your building’s safety and an accident took place in your coworking space?  No luck; you risk finding yourself subpoenaed for putting others in danger. You didn’t meet the required conditions for disability access? The law can accuse of you of discrimination on grounds of disability, a criminal offense.

Needless to say, non-compliance with standards will have consequences for your business: your insurer and your bank may lose confidence in you; you may gain a tarnished image among your coworkers, lower revenue, etc. Finally, know that it is proven that safe, comfortable, and well- organized workspaces increase the productivity of those who work there. Just one more reason to not take the required standards for opening a coworking space lightly.

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