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What do I need to transform a property into a venue?

For a wedding venue, or any other business, starting with a strong Business Plan will help keep you focused and get you to your goal. You don’t need to know everything to get started planning.

Specifically, for wedding and event venues, you will want to review city and county ordinances, state regulations, and think about other potential legal liabilities. The examples below are a good starting point, though you shouldn’t hesitate to ask a lawyer specific questions that may come up as you prepare.

Zoning

Many cities and counties have zoning ordinances that restrict land use. Within a town or city, land is typically zoned residential, commercial, or industrial. If your city’s zoning does not allow businesses to operate at your location, you may have to request a variance or exception to the rules. This can be a lengthy process.

Noise ordinances

Noise ordinances vary depending on the area, but they typically prohibit loud and noisy activities after a certain time, such as 10:00 p.m. or much earlier.

Neighbors

Do you have uncooperative neighbors or a homeowners association with bylaws? How do they feel about large and noisy gatherings on your property? Being prepared to address these issues can help in case a nuisance lawsuit by a neighbor or HOA risks interfering with your plans.

Building codes

Local building codes may require certain features, such as a fire safety system or a certain number of bathrooms. Inspectors will likely need to examine your electrical and HVAC systems, bathrooms, and any stage or dance floor area to confirm they meet state and local codes. There may be similar codes in place for exterior spaces such as parking or lighting requirements. Additionally, you may need to provide additional accessibility for individuals in wheelchairs or with other mobility impairments.

Food and alcohol regulations

If you plan on preparing food or serving alcohol, state and local food safety regulations will apply. Health inspectors will review your catering or food preparation area. If you or an outside vendor are preparing and serving food or alcohol, this may require a license or permit.

How do I book clients and subcontractors?

Starting a successful business requires the right marketing, and networking within your industry. But once you have the clients and industry contacts, you are going to need contracts. Perhaps the most important contract you need for a client is the Venue Rental Agreement. Frequently, wedding and event venues do not hire the outside vendors and leave that up to the clients, though many venues do offer their own services, or provide curated pre-approved vendor lists for clients.

Depending on what you offer, you may need other contracts for providing additional services for the event, such as catering, bartending, valet, or DJing. You may even want to consider hiring your own employees to provide those services down the road.

What permits or licenses do I need to operate a wedding venue?

While this varies based on your location, you will generally need the following licenses and permits to operate a wedding venue:

  • Business license: This allows you to do business in your city, county, or state.
  • Building permits: These demonstrate that your property complies with local codes.
  • Certificate of occupancy: This authorizes you to operate your business.
  • Liquor license and food handler’s permit: These are necessary to serve alcohol and prepare food on the premises.
  • Liability insurance: This protects you in case someone is injured on the property.

If you are struggling to find the required permits or licenses for your state or local government, you can always ask a lawyer for help.

What contract terms are important for wedding venues?

Your Venue Rental Agreement should establish clear terms for the client’s use of your property, including: 

  • When and how the client may use the property.
  • How much the client will pay.
  • Who is responsible for cleaning up after the event.
  • Who will be responsible for damages to the property that occur during the event.

Can I limit vendors allowed on the property?

You can and may want to require advance approval of outside vendors, such as caterers, bartenders, or musicians. You can restrict the number, and type, of vendors based on your property’s occupancy limits, safety and other concerns you may have. For example, some venues prohibit amplified music or serving liquor. Additionally, you may bar a specific vendor, but not if you are doing so for a discriminatory reason that violates local, state, or federal law.

Can I require clients to only use my services for food, drink, or entertainment?

Generally, yes, you may require someone renting your property to use the services that you provide. This may reduce the number of clients who book your venue, but it can also increase your profits. If this will be required, it should be clearly explained in the Venue Rental Agreement. Creating separate special event contracts that can be attached to the Venue Rental Agreement can help ensure that clients clearly understand what will be provided, and how much each additional service will cost.

How much liability is there when things go wrong?

If something can go wrong at a wedding, it probably will. For venue owners, this means that you can be held liable for injuries caused by hazardous conditions, such as a broken step, cracked sidewalk, or uneven floor. If you are aware of a hazardous condition, you may have a legal obligation to warn people and take reasonable steps to prevent injuries. This might simply involve placing a “caution” sign in plain view or blocking access to an especially unsafe area.

How can I protect against cancellations and liabilities?

Your Venue Rental Agreement can require deposits from the client in advance of the event, such as a deposit to save the date and another to cover potential damage to the property. Additionally, your contract can require the client to obtain liability insurance for the event to protect against injuries or accidents that may occur.

Can I legally marry people?

State law determines who can officiate a wedding. It typically involves a position of religious or spiritual authority, such as a minister, rabbi, or imam; or legal authority, such as a justice of the peace. If neither applies to you, it is possible to obtain credentials on the internet, or hire an officiant who will allow you to help or participate.

To learn more about how to convert a property into a wedding venue and whether it might be a good plan for you, contact a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney today.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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