Conveniences of Mixed-Use Living Also Bring Conflicts

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Today's renters don't always want the quiet, secluded privacy that the suburbs offer. According to the Urban Land Institute's 2013 nationwide housing survey, Americans want to be less car-dependent, have access to public transportation and live closer to shopping. More than 6 in 10 (62 percent) of Gen Y respondents said they preferred to live in mixed-use developments with shops, restaurants and offices nearby.

While living above your local grocery store or laundromat is wonderfully convenient, mixing businesses with residential units can also present conflicts. Mixed-use housing does come with risks: Last month, a python escaped its pet shop enclosure and found its way upstairs, strangling two boys sleeping in an apartment. And in May, residents near the San Francisco restaurant Bacon Bacon voiced complaints about the strong aroma of cooking pork, effectively forcing the business to close its doors, albeit briefly.

So when renters look for apartments in mixed-use buildings, how can they reduce the risk of clashing with the commercial neighbors downstairs? An ideal situation would be living above offices, banks and retail businesses that have regular operating hours, security and minimal noise. Also, be aware of waste management and any strong odors that could become potential problems down the road.

Operating Hours: Double-check on the opening and closing time to prevent any clashes with your sleeping schedule. It's no fun to be stuck in an apartment above a restaurant or bar with loud music, or a doughnut shop that starts business at 4 a.m. If you are considering an apartment in a building where late-night noise is common, check for double-pane windows and ask the landlord if the ceilings are insulated to lessen the noise impact. Additionally, pay attention to businesses in the area that might create lots of parking or foot traffic, which will add to the street noise.

Waste Management: Does the restaurant or supermarket downstairs dispose of waste in an alley out back? This presents health and sanitation issues, increasing the risk that the building could have vermin. Ideally, mixed-use buildings should have separate trash rooms for residents accompanied by frequent trash pickup.

Strong odors: Take notice of any smells that vent through the building or come through the windows. Not all restaurants have sophisticated ventilation or odor control systems. While the smell of baking bread or stir fry is pleasant at first, imagine living with it for a year.

Utility payments: Ask management about the proportion of maintenance and utilities the commercial tenants are paying for. Are the residents footing the bill for frequent trash pickup? Are water and electricity metered separately for businesses? You want to make sure any businesses in the building are paying their fair share for the services they consume.

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