Developing a live/work space is an ideal permit path for Denver’s artists and makers who look to reuse an existing building for a creative, new purpose. In many locations throughout the city, Denver’s codes enable a combination of residential living and commercial activity in the same unit. These same codes ensure public health, safety and quality-of-life for building occupants, visitors and the general public, and reduce liability for property owners and commercial tenants.
Because every building has unique features and constraints, the information in the drop-down menus below cannot anticipate all scenarios. For questions or help understanding a section of the code, you can contact us via phone, email or in person during business hours or request a pre-application meeting with our staff.
Zoning permits ensure the buildings and uses on a site align with the community’s vision for that area of the city.
(1) Find your building's zone district
To find out what land uses your building is zoned to allow, and which of Denver's two zoning codes applies to you, use the DevelopDENVER map to determine your zone district. Using your address, this map will tell you about your site, including its zoning and historic status, and will link you to an explanation of its zone district.
(2) Find out what land uses that district is zoned to allow
Each zone district correlates to an Article of the zoning code, and at the end of each of these Articles, there are detailed “district-specific standards” that list all of the uses permitted in that zone district. Click here to view a sample "district-specific standards" section from the Denver Zoning Code.
(3) Obtain the applicable zoning permit
In all areas of the city, the next step is to obtain a zoning permit for your proposed activity.
In most mixed-use and industrial zone districts, zoning allows for art studios and craft work under a “live/work use permit.” In residential zone districts (SU, TU, TH, RH, MU, RO or RX), zoning allows art studios as an accessory use to the living space via a “home occupation permit," meaning you can create art in your home to be sold elsewhere. Both of these permit types are detailed below.
Live/Work Zoning Use Permit
Denver requires that you obtain a live/work use permit if you want to add living space to an existing commercial space or retail art space.
In a mixed-use zone district, one building can have two or more different primary uses, including, but not limited to: residential, business, retail or entertainment. In most mixed-use zone districts in Denver, a live/work zoning use permit allows you to create a dwelling in combination with the following business activities:
An “artist studio” covers a broad array of craft work and custom fabrication activities. Mixed-use zones that allow indoor arts, recreation and entertainment uses will also allow a live/work space for live music performances (most MX, MS and CC zones and the I-MX zone). These activities are defined in the Denver Zoning Code (Section 220.127.116.11 [PDF]), and it is important to ensure what you want to do in your live/work space matches the definition.
In addition, Denver has a provision for live/work in industrial (non-mixed-use) districts that is established specifically and only for art studios.
Buildings being converted into multi-unit dwellings can apply for a live/work permit for each dwelling unit.
A live/work zoning use permit will require a building code change of occupancy which will require that you submit plans for building permits. More on that in the Building Permits drop-down menu.
Home Occupation Zoning Permit for a Home Business
If your site is zoned for low-intensity residential uses only and does not allow commercial or mixed-use activity, you can obtain a home occupation permit to create individual works of art or give private lessons in your home, provided goods are not sold on-site. Anyone can apply for a home occupation permit for his or her primary place of residence. If you don’t plan to remodel your dwelling for this purpose, you likely don’t need a subsequent building permit.
Number of People Living in a Dwelling Unit
Any number of persons related by blood, marriage or adoption may live together in a dwelling. In a single-unit dwelling, two unrelated adults over 18 years old are allowed per household, and with a home occupation zoning permit for rooming and boarding, an additional one or two unrelated persons is allowed (depending on your zone district). In a two-unit dwelling or multi-unit dwelling, four unrelated adults over 18 years old are allowed per household, and with a home occupation zoning permit for rooming and boarding, two additional unrelated persons are allowed.
With a zoning permit for live/work dwelling use, you can combine residential and commercial activity in the same dwelling unit. The same rules about number of persons living together apply (a max of two unrelated adults per dwelling unit), except that in an industrial zone district, up to four unrelated people can live together in the same live/work dwelling unit. Buildings being converted into multi-unit dwellings can apply for a live/work zoning permit for each dwelling unit or for the entire building.
Building permits ensure that alterations are done right and do not inadvertently endanger occupants or the general public. Once you have a zoning use permit, you will need building permits to convert an existing building — particularly buildings that have never been permitted for residential uses — into livable space. See "change of occupancy" below for more information.
Building permits are not required to install smoke detectors or for most minor projects that are cosmetic in nature such as painting, laying floor tile, or changing faucets or fixtures. Building permits are required for any remodeling work, such as building a loft, putting in new walls, adding or removing stairs, changing electrical wiring, creating new exterior openings, or anything affecting the integrity of the building’s structure.
Not sure if your project will need a building permit? Check Section 130.3 "Exempted Work" of the Denver Building & Fire Code (PDF).
What building permits you need ultimately depends on the nature of the existing building, its current use and your desired new use. In some cases, you may need to have a structural engineer assess the condition of the building.
Change of Occupancy
All buildings are classified by an occupancy category found in the building code. Buildings must be provided with structural and life-safety elements for that particular use, purpose or level of activity. When the occupancy of a space changes (e.g., goes from warehouse/storage to residential), the building design must be reevaluated for the new use(s) and will likely require upgrades to fire safety, electrical and/or plumbing systems.
In order to begin construction for a change of occupancy, you must submit building plans and obtain a building permit. When your construction work is complete, a city inspector will inspect the work, and the city will issue a new certificate of occupancy that allows your desired uses.
Even if you plan on no remodeling work, you will need to obtain both zoning and building permits to change the occupancy of something like a warehouse to a multi-unit dwelling or live/work dwelling. This means submitting as-built plans of the building including a site plan, floor plan(s) and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. Work may be required upon review of the building and its existing systems.
Applying for Building Permits
Building permit applications require technical information about a structure, such as its mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, structural system, architecture, and much more. Community Planning and Development has created guides to help prepare applicants for the information that will be requested during the review process. Application forms are included in the guides.
A building permit application must include at least three sets of plans showing what you intend to build and how it will be constructed and occupied. Plans must be drawn to scale, and must be signed, sealed and stamped by the registered design professional (architect or engineer) who prepared the drawings, unless the project is for a single-family home or duplex.
If, as part of your business, you plan to use welding equipment or other tools with an unusually high electrical load, or specialized, propane gas-fired equipment or other hazardous/toxic materials, please provide this information on the building plans you submit.
Who can apply for building permits? In Denver, only a contractor with a valid license for the type of work on the application can pick up commercial construction permits, and only a licensed contractor or the owner-occupier of a detached, single-family home can pick up residential construction permits.
Depending on the scope of work, you will likely need licensed contractors to obtain permits for electrical, mechanical, and plumbing work in addition to the main building permit.
Building permit fees are charged based on the estimated "valuation" of your project -- valuation is the cost of materials and labor.
Other agencies like Denver Environmental Health, Denver Public Works and the Denver Fire Department may also have oversight over aspects of your project. In a landmark building or historic district, contact Landmark Preservation at 720-865-2709 or firstname.lastname@example.org before applying for a permit or doing any work to the property’s exterior.
This guide is for those who:
(a) want to establish both a business and a home in an already-built structure, or
(b) already have an art studio, gallery, music venue or other alternative/creative space and want permits to live there as well.
Enlist a professional. The best way to ensure a building is safe and up to code is to enlist the help of a design professional—an architect, engineer or general contractor—due to the complex work involved in ensuring that a space complies with all local, state and federal regulations.
Go straight to the codes.
Request a pre-application meeting. For general questions or help understanding a section of the code, you can request a pre-application meeting with our staff, or you can visit our permit counter on the 2nd floor of the Webb building (201 W. Colfax Ave., Denver) during our business hours.
Check out Denver Arts & Venues' resources.