Meat & Potatoes

berkeley trailing professionals social TRANSPARENT backgroundNOTE: Come to the Trailing Professionals Social
on 12th December!

We’re having a meetup with cocktails and we’d love for you to join us. It’s an opportunity to connect with likeminded people and learn more about career opportunities for spouses and partners.

FlickrCC image by Marya

FlickrCC image by Marya

Not everybody wants to work from home. For that matter, not everybody can. Part of the process behind getting a business license in Albany involves getting the permission of your landlord, if you plan to work in a rented home. There are various reasons why you or your landlord might prefer that your business be conducted elsewhere:

  • Sometimes, liability risks are at play. For example, if you’re preparing food there are laws governing the safety and hygiene of your work space. Premises outside the home are often easier to keep up to the required standards.

  • Maybe you need a space for consulting with clients. Your home might not be an appropriate setting, and not all landlords are happy for a property to be used this way. You might want to be located in a particular area to make things easier for your clients or to enhance your reputation.

  • It can be difficult to work at home, especially if your energy is being divided between different responsibilities. Having a separate premises for work can help you to focus. Similarly, it can be difficult to relax at home if you are constantly surrounded by work. Leaving work behind in the office can be a good way of managing stress.

  • Having a space to meet other entrepreneurs can help you to get access to valuable resources and expose you to more business opportunities. It’s also less lonely when you have other people around all the time.

  • You might have to regularly receive mail as part of your work, and not want to use your home address for security reasons. Or, you could need to know that packages will be delivered safely even if you are out doing something else.

There are lots of options out there when it comes to renting desk space, and I’m going to focus on the kind of spaces where you could, theoretically, walk in tomorrow and immediately get started. They range from the simple to the luxurious, and this list is just a few examples of the kind of things that are available reasonably close to University Village.

FlickrCC image by John Morgan

FlickrCC image by John Morgan

Arty spaces

There are lots of art studios in our part of town, and some of them are used by mixed groups of people doing different things that require some space to be loud and messy. For example, Transmissions is a little red building across the street from McDonalds which houses an eclectic group of artists and designers, with some fairly impressive workshop facilities. The last time I went to speak to them they didn’t have any space available, but if you drop off your business card they will let you know if and when something frees up.  Further south, the Kala institute is renting out studio space, and then of course there’s the Crucible in Oakland if you don’t mind travelling.


Kala studio space is $300/month unless you have a residency or fellowship with them. Access to studios at The Crucible starts at $125/month, but renting a studio space of your own costs $625.


If you’re a maker, an artist space might be an ideal way for you to get access to workshop equipment. Spending time around artists opens up possibilities for collaborative work, and can be a good way of learning about opportunities for funding and exposure. I’m not an artist, but I’ve rented desk space in art studios before, and found it very creatively stimulating.


Art collectives are sometimes selective about who they admit to their spaces. The cost of an entire studio will be high, so if you only need a small amount of space then this might not be the way forward — though it’s possible that someone might want to rent you a table in their studio to subsidise their own costs. Some art studios rent out their premises for events; depending on the situation this could potentially interfere with your practice.

FlickrCC image by William Hock

FlickrCC image by William Hock

Startup spaces

You don’t have to commute to SoMa to find tech people to cowork with, but startup spaces are hard to find among the bungalows of Albany. Downtown Berkeley has some more offerings; Sandbox Suites and Impact Hub both offer coworking spaces tailored to the needs of those of us working in digital media, software development and internet stuff — complete with inspiring talks, empowerment workshops and networking events. For a cheaper and more down-to-earth option you could go a little further down Martin Luther King Way to the super friendly Sharespace@Ashby.


For desk space, Sandbox starts at $175/mo for unlimited off-peak access; Impact Hub starts at $70 for ten hours’ desk use per month; and you can use Sharespace@Ashby for three days a week for $100/month. All offer cheaper packages for services that don’t involve regular desk access, so check the websites for details.


This is an easy way to get started, and depending on what kind of business you have, the networking opportunities could be priceless. Tend to have coffee on tap, which may or may not be important to you (it’s very important to me).


Memberships start to get expensive when you want to use a desk every day, especially if you would like to leave things behind overnight. Each place offers different things in its price structure, so be careful to compare what you get for your dollar.

FlickrCC by Victor1558

FlickrCC by Victor1558

Executive suites

Business centers provide professional environments and a wide range of services — they’ll not only rent you an office suite in a swish high-rise building, but take care of some of your admin tasks too. Regus is one of the most well-known providers, and has locations in Emeryville and Oakland. Their packages are built for small- to medium-size companies operating internationally; one of the most impressive things they offer is the ability to walk into any of the 1,500 Regus branches anywhere in the world and request office space for the day. Da Vinci in Oakland offers many of the same things, with branches across the US.


Pricing is complicated; Regus will give you a quote based on your needs, and Da Vinci charges on a modular basis.


If you’re looking for an impressive location to meet clients, this is probably the answer: fully-serviced offices in shiny downtown buildings. If you regularly need help with admin work, membership to one of these plans could be a real timesaver.


Given that their pricing is so opaque, it’s safe to say that this is not the cheap option. You’ll have to pay travel costs too: their fancy city-centre locations are unlikely to be close to home.



In order to legally own and operate a business anywhere in the city of Albany, you need a Business License.

If you want to run this business from your home, you need an additional permit: the Home Occupation Permit. In this post I’ll tell you how I went about obtaining both the permit and the license.

Once I had figured out that I needed these two documents, I spent some time looking around the website that the city of Albany has. Under the header ‘Doing Business’, I found the content I needed. As it turns out, there are different types of licenses for different types of businesses.

Occupy Home!

If, like me, you will be working from your home, you will need the Home Occupation Permit. The process of getting this permit is relatively straightforward. First, read the regulations for these permits here, and see if the business you plan on running does not violate any of these regulations. Then, click here to download the form to request the permit.

Screenshot of a fragment of the actual form.

If you own your home, you will need to know if your home is a condominium. If it is, then you are a member of a Home Owners Association [HOA]. A representative of the HOA needs to sign the form with which you request the permit. You don’t live in a condominium? Cool, you can sign your own application and submit it.

Do you rent? In that case, the owner of your place (the landlord) will need to sign your application. The best way to obtain that signature is to fill out the entire form, but hold off on signing it. Then hand it off to your landlord. When they have signed it, take the form – still unsigned by you – to the Albany City Hall (1000 San Pablo Avenue).

Once you’re there, pay the fee (I paid $70), sign the form and hand it in.

The Actual License

In order to get the Business License that goes along with your Home Occupation Permit, you need to present yourself in person at the Albany City Hall. Now that’s convenient, because you needed to give these people your Home Occupation Permit anyway. So, walk up to the window that says ‘Finance and Administrative Services’ and tell them why you’re there.

They will provide you with a sign-off sheet, which instructs you to get three different signatures. One from the Fire Department, one from Community Development and Environment Services and the last one from Building Inspection.

Two of the three signatures you need, you can get by simply moving over to the next window in the city hall building. There you will find both Building Inspection and Community Development and Environment Services.

NB: It is possible that the person who does building inspections is not in, but his colleagues will happily tell you when he is in and how to reach him to make sure you get your signature as soon as possible. They will not let you leave your form behind for him, you keep in mind that you may have to make two trips. Helpful rumor: Your best bet is to go in early in the morning.

The third signature was my favourite one. It takes you to the Fire Department, which is just around the corner from the city hall. Again, explain why you are there, then answer a few questions about your apartment regarding smoke detectors and such. In order to get a signature from one of the firefighters, you will likely have to sign a declaration in return, stating that you have photoelectric smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher in your apartment.

With the third signature now on your list, go back to the first window in the city hall builing. There, pay the fee for the business license itself. This fee is $256 for a full year, but since 2013 is almost over already, you’ll only pay a fraction of that amount.

All set

A few weeks later, you will received the license in the mail. All is well that ends well. Until January, that is, because that’s when everybody needs to get their license renewed.

Pro-tip: Keep your receipts and file the costs as business expenses.