5 Crucial Areas of Commercial Real Estate Law for Colorado Businesses

Real estate law is a broad and complicated legal area. Colorado is no exception with a tangled mass of statutes on everything from discloser and zoning laws to insurance and contract laws. Whether you lease or own your business location, you will likely encounter a property law issue at some point. Attorney Elizabeth Lewis, MS, JD can help guide you through real estate law at every level before it affects your business. The following post will discuss five crucial areas of commercial real estate law for Colorado businesses.

  • Landlord/Tennant Laws
  • Disclosure Laws
  • Zoning and Land Use Laws
  • Contract Law
  • Insurance Laws

Landlord/Tennant Laws

Whether you own or rent your business space, landlord/tenant laws are designed to protect the rights of both sides who have entered into a rental or leasing agreement. There are numerous areas within these laws, including taxation, right of privacy, payment of rental fees, disclosures, duration of agreements, and right to terminate agreements. As a Colorado business owner, it is essential to comply with state laws in order to prevent violations. It’s a good idea to hire a Colorado-based attorney to advise you on all of your real estate and leasing issues from initial set up to lease/contract review to protecting your assets.

Disclosure Laws

Before you buy or rent a business space, you want to know everything you are getting into. Are there any toxic substances, like asbestos or lead paint? Does the building have energy use restrictions or accessibility inspections? You may have found the perfect location, nestled in the bustling heart of downtown Denver, but it is important to know what you may not readily see. Like other real estate laws, discloser laws vary from state to state and deal with the location, condition, and restrictions of the property. Furthermore, a commercial lease and residential lease differ greatly and are subject to different laws. A small business attorney will review and advise you on existing or potential factors before you are ready to lease or buy a retail space.

Zoning and Land Use Laws

Your real estate choice, whether you operate out of a home office or huge warehouse, will affect your business. Commercial real estate can be divided into several categories, including office buildings, industrial, retail, restaurant, multifamily, undeveloped land, and more. Each of these properties are subject to Colorado state zoning and land use regulations.

Besides determining taxation, these laws define and enforce how a property is used. As a business owner, you already have a checklist a mile long when it comes to choosing your location – rent or buy, physical space, length of lease, affordability, renovations, maintenance, competitors, specifications for signs, accessibility, and much more. Learning that you must apply for rezoning to the local board is not something you want to add your list, and it does not guarantee that your application will be accepted. With the expert advice of an attorney, you can navigate through these real estate laws in order to select the perfect location.

Contract Law

After you have decided whether to buy or rent, reviewed the terms of disclosure, and confirmed zoning, you will enter into a contractual agreement. Specifically worded and structured, these legally binding documents are meant to stand up to any challenges by a landlord, tenant, or outside entity. Many savvy business owners have agreed to the terms of a contract only to fall victim to some unforeseen loophole or unintentional breach that leads to litigation. In this event, an attorney will represent you and help protect your business.

Insurance Laws

Based on the space you occupy and the business you operate, you are required to have certain insurance. This is to protect your investment and cover any property loss or liability issues. The type(s) of insurance you purchase depends on your status as lessor or lessee, the number of employees you have, as well as any building ordinance or state laws. In the unfortunate event of an accident, burglary, fire, or other disaster, additional insurance can help to cover the aftermath of damage to your business. A small business attorney can help you decide what coverage is right for you.

If you are a landlord or a tenant who needs help with Colorado commercial real estate, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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4 Important Things To Do Before Opening a Retail Store

Dreaming of opening your very own boutique, an artisans shop, or even a small franchise? There are a multitude of important considerations before you jump into the vibrant mix of Denver retailers. And, just when you think you have done your due diligence, you may encounter unforeseen obstacles. Whether it is an issue with a contract or agreement, choosing the right business entity, dealing with wholesalers, managing staff, or marketing your product, a small business attorney will help keep you on track. This post will cover four major parts to starting your own small retail business.

  • Product
  • Plan
  • Location
  • Finances


You likely already know what you want to sell before you explore many other important factors. A working knowledge and passion for your intended product are great, but they do not guarantee success. Conducting research in order to gauge the demand for your product and keeping current on sales trends are essential to your potential for profit. The U.S. Census Bureau publishes retail trade reports every five years. These can help you measure the demand for your products.

Also, establishing relationships with product suppliers or wholesalers requires agreements and contracts, which a small business attorney will help you navigate.


Your product determined, it is time to create a comprehensive business plan. This will include a detailed description of your inventory, target customers, how to meet the needs of target customers, competition, and advantages you have over the competition. You will need to provide details about the organizational structure of your store and design a marketing strategy. Deciding on a business structure (i.e. sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, limited liability company, etc.) will determine which tax forms you are required to file. An attorney provides tax advice and representation in the event of any audits, penalties, or other tax issues, so you should establish a relationship with a Colorado small business attorney before you file any forms with Colorado or the federal government.

Even with the best laid plans, one bad customer experience shared via social media can close your newly opened doors. A good small business attorney will work with you to develop a solid online marketing strategy as well.


As with your product and plan, you will need to research potential locations for your business. Whether it is best suited for Denver’s creative Art District on Sante Fe, eclectic Union Station, or historic Larimer Square, you will want to select a property that meets your needs and budget. Your research may entail searching public records to see how a location was previously used, analyzing the foot traffic and demographics of the neighborhood, and finding a location that is visible to your customers and consistent with the image you want to project. Your attorney will assist in every aspect of your business formation from finding the ideal location, entering into lease agreements, hiring employees, drafting company documents, and filing the required state and federal paperwork.


Determining all of the expenses your business may incur when starting out will help you to spend more wisely and begin earning sooner. Plan for rent and operation expenses, such as security deposit, utilities, and staffing. Figure out if you will need to make property improvements and customizations, which are associated with a multitude of costs, including construction, furniture, fixtures, equipment, and office supplies. There are also expenses related to technology and communications (computers, phones, internet, point of sale (POS) terminals, card readers, scanners and printers), inventory, and marketing/advertising. Other required fees come with licenses, permits, taxes, and registration. Beyond borrowing money or obtaining a commercial loan, there are numerous options for small business loans. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several of these loan programs for entrepreneurs. Regardless of the type of financing, a small business attorney will review the written agreements and interpret the terms in order to avoid misunderstandings or defaults.

If you are starting a retail store and need an attorney, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Classifying Your Workers and Why it is Crucial to Your Small Business

This week, we are going to dive into some details on classifying your workers and why it is crucial to your small business. Why? Because it is important for all Colorado small business owners to understand when they can call someone a contractor, and when that person is really an employee. Without this understanding, it is fairly easy to wind up on the wrong side of the law.

First, let’s define what we mean by Worker Classification and explain why it is important to all employers, not just small business owners.

Classifying your workers correctly means understanding if they are independent contractors or employees so that you can avoid breaking the law with regard to federal and state employment tax. It also means you can determine if you are following the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) with regard to the individual worker.

Determine If Individuals Providing Services For Your Small Business are Employees or Independent Contractors

If individuals providing services for your small business are employees, you pay taxes on their earnings. If the same individuals are independent contractors, in most cases, you don’t. You may also have other obligations to employees that would not apply if the worker were an independent contractor. The temptation to call some one a contractor when he or she is really an employee is strong, but it is not worth it under any circumstance.

Let’s take a look at the rules, so you can feel confident about when someone can legally be classified as an independent contractor. For the sake of brevity, we are going to focus on how the IRS defines an independent contractor vs. a common law employee. There are different classifications of employee, and you should consider speaking with a business attorney if you think you may have workers who fall under these other categories (ex: statutory nonemployee).

Classifying a Worker as an Independent Contractor

The IRS provides the following insight:

The general rule is that an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.

They recommend the following test to determine if someone is a common law employee, but maintain there is “no magic formula” for knowing if someone is an employee or independent contractor:

  1. Behavioral: Does the company control or have the right to control what the worker does and how the worker does his or her job?
  2. Financial: Are the business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the payer? (these include things like how worker is paid, whether expenses are reimbursed, who provides tools/supplies, etc.)
  3. Type of Relationship: Are there written contracts or employee type benefits (i.e. pension plan, insurance, vacation pay, etc.)? Will the relationship continue and is the work performed a key aspect of the business?

If you have tried to apply these test questions to your specific situation and are still not sure how to classify a worker, the IRS has a form you can submit and they will review on your behalf. Once they set the worker’s status, it becomes official, so you may want to ask a business attorney to review the form on your behalf before your submit it, if your goal is to establish that a worker is a contractor and not an employee.

What About the the Fair Labor Standards Act?

Most small business owners are at least aware that there are important differences between contractors and employees when it comes to paying State and Federal employment taxes, but many do not realize the classification of an employee also impacts the employer’s legal obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act. First, a quick reminder of what the Fair Labor Standards Act is. Wikipedia gives a good explanation and some history:

The FLSA introduced the forty-hour work week, established a national minimum wage, guaranteed “time-and-a-half” for overtime in certain jobs, and prohibited most employment of minors in “oppressive child labor.”

If you have individuals who are performing work for you, you need to know if you owe them minimum wage, and time-and-a-half in compliance with the FLSA statute, or if you can claim an exemption. The easiest way to be exempt from the FLSA rules is to make sure the worker can be categorized as an independent contractor. That doesn’t mean calling someone an independent contractor when he or she isn’t. The IRS is not playing games when it comes to miss-classification:

If you classify an employee as an independent contractor and you have no reasonable basis for doing so, you may be held liable for employment taxes for that worker.

If you think you may have mistakenly been paying someone as an independent contractor, you can qualify for forgiveness under a Relief Provision, but you have to do so before the IRS calls you out. If you think you may have made a mistake in this regard, talk to an attorney sooner than later. The expense of being caught is much greater than the expense of getting an attorney to help you now.

If you need help classifying your workers or understanding why it is crucial to your small business to know if a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Denver, CO 80209

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7 New Business Essentials in Colorado Employment Law

7 New Business Essentials in Colorado Employment Law

Before you hire your very first employee, or think about expanding your newly growing empire, follow this checklist to ensure you are in compliance with the laws and regulations of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. A business attorney can add peace of mind and support during the start-up, expansion, and life of your business. This post includes seven essential items on your new business checklist.

  • Register for an unemployment account
  • Report new hires
  • Verify workers’ compensation coverage
  • Submit employment verification
  • Verify wage and hour law compliance
  • Ensure proper worker classification
  • Display workplace posters

Register For an Unemployment Account

As a business owner, you are required to register for an unemployment account with the Colorado Department of Revenue and/or Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. You will need to obtain an unemployment account number through the labor department and begin paying employer premiums through a quarterly premium- and wage-report process. This funds the payment of unemployment benefits, and random audits may be conducted to verify appropriate unemployment insurance. An attorney will represent and assist you through this process.

Report New Hires

You have 20 calendar days to report new hires with the State Directory of New Hires (SDNH). This includes newly hired employees, rehired employees, and contractors. An attorney will further breakdown all of the steps and provide critical advice on employment laws from drafting employment or contractor agreements to hiring minors and out-of-state employees.

Verify Workers’ Compensation Coverage

Colorado law requires that you have workers’ compensation insurance as soon as you hire your first employee. Your insurance policy is meant to protect you, your business, and your employees when injury or illness takes place due to workplace circumstances, so the state requires you to verify workers’ compensation coverage. The expense and effort of meeting employment verification and examination requirements is an ever-present challenge. An attorney will provide representation in the event of any workers’ compensation audits, citations, or other liability issues.

Verify Wage and Hour Law Compliance

You can avoid penalties, damage awards, and litigation by understanding wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) among others. An attorney will help you verify wage and hour law compliance. Wading through the numerous laws and regulations associated with Colorado’s wage and hour laws, giving practical financial, tax, and benefits advice in order to best determine worker status, wages, minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping, and youth employment standards is more easily (and accurately) accomplished with the help of a Colorado small business attorney.

Ensure Accurate Classification

There are many issues to consider when classifying your worker as an employee versus an independent contractor under Colorado law. Whether or not the individual is free from control and direction in the performance of the service or is engaged in an independent trade/occupation/business related to the service are just two of the concepts used to determine the status of a worker. Accurate classification ensures that workers get the proper wages, benefits, and protections to which they are entitled.

Display Workplace Posters

It is mandatory that your business comply with state and federal regulations regarding certain rights and responsibilities, including minimum wage, child labor, worker’s compensation, equal employment opportunity, and unemployment insurance regulations and laws. Many agencies provide posters online for free. Be sure to display workplace posters with the required information in a clear, readable, and unobstructed way.

Whether it is reviewing a contract, hiring a new employee, or navigating state and federal compliance laws, I can guide your new business through the complexities of employment law. Please contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Denver, CO 80209

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Foreign National Business Formation and the EB-5 Visa Process in Colorado

Congress, in its quest to keep our economy healthy, looks for ways to invite business owners and entrepreneurs from other countries here, to our shores, to build, manufacture, and employ our citizens. The good news, if you are a foreign national looking for a chance to become a U.S. business owner, is that you don’t have to be a multi-national conglomerate to own a business here in the United States.

USCIS administers the EB-5 program, created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.

The EB-5 program doesn’t restrict visas to large corporations like Toyota and Siemens. Instead, it requires foreign investors invest in a new commercial enterprise or rescue a troubled business where they will continue to employ the existing employees for at least two years.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS) describes new commercial enterprise as for-profit activity formed for the ongoing conduct of lawful business including by not limited to:

  • A sole proprietorship
  • Partnership (whether limited or general)
  • Holding company
  • Joint venture
  • Corporation
  • Business trust, or
  • Other entity, which may be publicly or privately owned

There are a few catches, but if you can overcome them, you can set up shop in the United States as a foreign national. What seem to be the more challenging requirements? You have to be able to hire or employ 10 qualifying employees, and you need to be able to invest a substantial amount of capital.

A Foreign National Owned Business Must Provide Employment for 10 Qualifying Employees

Keeping in mind that the qualifying employees can be existing employees, as an Eb-5 foreign national owned business you must provide employments for 10 qualifying employees. A qualifying employee is described by USCIS as follows:

A qualifying employee is a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident or other immigrant authorized to work in the United States including, but not limited to, a conditional resident, a temporary resident, an asylee, a refugee, or a person residing in the United States under suspension of deportation.

However, “this definition does not include the immigrant investor; his or her spouse, sons, or daughters; or any foreign national in any non-immigrant status (such as an H-1B non-immigrant) or who is not authorized to work in the United States.” Which means your family can of course come with you, but if you hire a friend or family member who is also a foreign national, their job may not count toward the requirement to employ ten qualified people.

EB-5 Capital Investment Requirement

The EB-5capital investment requirement is pretty steep, but you can cut the amount required in half if you are willing to invest in a High Unemployment or Rural Area. The minimum general qualifying investment amount is $1 million, but the investment requirement in a Targeted Employment Area (High Unemployment or Rural Area) is on only $500,000.

There are a lot of rules and requirements that extend beyond this surface explanation, but if you are a foreign national who has a business idea or an entrepreneurial skill set that you believe would prosper well in the United States, it is worth your time to talk to an attorney who is familiar with the law and has experience preparing EB-5 visa applications.

Foreign National Business Formation in Colorado

Our state, like many U.S. States, has a Regional Investment center designed to attract Foreign National business formation in Colorado. The Colorado Regional Center describes EB-5 investment as “an alignment of interests” which allow immigrant investors the opportunity to “live, work, attend school, or retire anywhere in the U.S.” Their website lists a host of benefits, including a path to citizenship if that is your ultimate goal.

  • The investor does not have to be sponsored
  • The process for approval is relatively fast compared to other visa programs
  • The investor has more freedom of travel
  • The investor has increased US educational opportunities (including residency benefits for dependent students) and
  • The investor has the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen after five years

The EB-5 visa program is thriving in Colorado, and many areas of the state are welcoming and diverse, making it a popular alternative to more expensive East and West coast investment possibilities. If you are a foreign national with an interest in investing in or operating a business here in the United States, or have questions about foreign national business formation and the EB-5 visa process in Colorado, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Zoning Permits are Required for Denver Home Based Businesses

Zoning Permits are Required for Denver Home Based Businesses

The city of Denver is working to make starting your small business as simple and affordable as possible. In recent years, laws which allow for fresh produce and cottage food sales from home have been passed in order to help small, home-based food production businesses get started. Through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Denver and throughout Colorado, funds are often provided to help budding entrepreneurs learn more about the topics they need to master to succeed. All-in-all, Colorado is friendly to small business start ups and home business hopefuls, but zoning permits are required for Denver home based businesses.

Will Your Denver Home Based Business Need a Zoning Permit?

Most people think of zoning permits as being connected to retail sales, or start-ups that are associated with a licensed profession. Not so; even if your Denver home office is just a place where you connect to the internet to do freelance work, you will need a home occupation permit. You will also want to know if it is legal for you to conduct the type of business you plan to run, from your home. Be warned; the process for figuring out if you can run a specific type of business from your address is not simple. Why? Because there are multiple elements you need to examine:

The first element of your zone district represents the neighborhood context, the second part represents the dominant building form and character, and the third part represents the minimum zone lot size or maximum building height. Occasionally there is an additional number or letter as the fourth part, which represents a special purpose.

It may help to see an example. Let’s say you’ve plugged in your address, and found your zone district using Denver’s online zoning locator map.

The image below shows an example of a zone district (click to enlarge).
zoning map sample for Denver

Zone districts are coded. Below is an example of a Zone District code – let’s break it down and see how the code translates into whether our not you need a Zoning Permit to operate a home businesses at this address:


The initial element, in our example, “S” will describe the context of your neighborhood. Is it suburban? Downtown? The zoning rules will of course be different for a suburban neighborhood than an urban edge neighborhood. In our example, “S” stands for a Suburban neighborhood context. You can see the zoning code associated with each type of neighborhood on the Community Planning and Development page (on the right hand side) of the Denver city government website.

Context is actually a really interesting element that attempts to label what you and your neighbors expect to find in your neighborhood so you don’t wake up one morning with an auto mechanic’s shop next door to your Victorian (although, if you’re trying to preserve a Victorian that’s in a mixed use neighborhood, you may anyway!). The city of Denver provides a video to explain what goes into determining context.

We’ve got the first element covered! Our sample code is S-MX-F3. So what does the MX stand for? That describes the dominant building form and character. Your address could be designated as a Mixed Use area (MX), or a Residential Office (RO) area and so forth.

Some buildings are designated with a special provision (A= Special provisions). It is unlikely that your home address will return a special provision element, but if it does, you will need to make a phone call and ask for details. The more typical codes for Dominant Building Form and Character are:

SU = Single Unit
TU = Two Unit
TH = Town House
RH = Row House
MU = Multi Unit
RO = Residential Office
RX = Residential Mixed Use
CC = Commercial Corridor
MX = Mixed Use
MS = Main Street

We are in the home stretch! The final element will usually describe the minimum lot size and maximum building height designated for your lot. This element is important if you are planning to build your new home office above your garage, but not so much if you are planning to start your business in the spare bedroom. Zoning rules are why your ranch style house in the suburbs doesn’t have a skyscraper on either side of it: lot sizes in the suburbs as well as the height of the buildings allowed are controlled by zoning laws. In our example, the final element – F3 – tells us the minimum square footage lot size, and building height maximum per the chart below:

Square footage:
A = 3,000
B = 4,500
C = 5,500
D =6,000
E = 7,000
F = 8,500
G = 9,000
H = 10,000
I = 12,000

2 = 2 stories
2.5 = 2.5 stories
3 = 3 stories
5 = 5 stories
8 = 8 stories
12 = 12 stories
16 = 16 stories
20 = 20 stories

So, the lot size for this address is 8500 square feet, and the maximum number of stories allowed is 3. Now you know! But how does this impact your need for a zoning permit? Remember when we said it was easy, but not simple. Here is where it gets a little less simple: you need to find out what types of businesses are allowed at your address in what is called the Context Article. There is a context article for each neighborhood type, so if you are in a suburban neighborhood, you will open Article 3: Suburban Neighborhood Context and find out if the type of business you plan to run in your neighborhood is allowed. This set of rules is what prevents a night club from opening up next door to an elementary school. Once you know the type of home business you plan to conduct, you open up the Article for your Neighborhood Context, and find out if what you want to do is allowed in your neighborhood. Here is what the article will tell you, once you find your home-based business idea on the list of business types:

*= Need Not be Enclosed
P = Permitted Use without Limitations
L = Permitted Use with Limitations
NP = Not Permitted Use
ZP = Zoning Permit Review
ZPIN = Subject to Zoning Permit Review with Informational Notice
ZPSE = Subject to Zoning Permit with Special Exception Review
When no ZP, ZPIN, ZPSE listed = No Zoning Permit required

What you hope to see is “no ZP, ZPIN, ZPSE listed” because then you don’t need a permit! What you don’t want to see is NP – because then the type of business you want to run from home in your neighborhood is not allowed. You can find the Article for your specific neighborhood context (this was the S, or first element of our zoning code example) in the Zoning section of the city website, under the tab labeled “View Denver Zoning Code by Article.”

Remember, if you can legally operate a specific type of business from your home, you will still need a zoning permit for home occupations:

A zoning permit is required for all home occupations.

You can complete your zoning permit on the city website and (thank goodness!) it’s pretty easy to do. If you need help determining which zoning permits are required for your Denver home based businesses, or have any questions about the legalities of running a business from home, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209

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