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Check the Zoning Regulations Before Operating a Business Out of Your Home!

Modern technology and our ever-changing economy   are causing more people to consider starting up or basing their existing businesses from home.  Many communities have embraced this concept and have enacted zoning regulations that make it easier to do just that.  Some jurisdictions, however, still have regulations on their books that make operating a business from home a real challenge.  Regardless of where your community falls on this spectrum, it is important to know what the rules are before you start operating a business from your residence.  If you live in a community without any zoning regulations you can do just about anything you want to on your property but it is advisable to check to make sure there are no recorded restrictive covenants that limit or prohibit non-residential or commercial activities in the subdivision.  Assuming that there are zoning laws that apply to the property, or if you are uncertain whether your area is subject to zoning, the first step is to call the local government.  There are many different names for the division of government that may regulate such matters, such as building inspection, codes and permits, or the zoning office, but if you call the general city or county  number and explain what  you need to know, they will direct you to the right place.

Some communities allow home offices and home occupations, but limit the types of uses, square footage  of the non-residential use within the house, prohibit the use of accessory buildings for this purpose or limit employees to those who reside in the house. In some communities home occupations and home offices are permitted by right, but in others, such uses are allowed only as a conditional use that must be approved by the local board of adjustment after a public hearing, including notice to adjoining property owners.    There is also wide variety as to which uses are allowed as home occupations or home offices.  For example in some communities,   artists, music teachers and upholsterers  may  sell  their services or products  from  their residences, but  beauticians, yoga instructors   or caterers  may not.   Further, the type of home occupation permitted in a community can vary by the zone in which the property is located.  For example, in some places persons who live in a residence in an agricultural zone are permitted to engage in a wider range of home business activities than those in residential zones.

If you live in an area that allows home occupations as a conditional use, and your business activity fits within what is permitted by the regulations, you will need to complete and file an application that must be approved before you can start your home business. .   It is always a good idea to contact your neighbors prior to the hearing to inform them of your proposed activities.  It is always better to answer their questions or address their concerns before the public hearing. Boards of adjustment have the discretion to impose conditions on the operation of the use, and can deny the permit if the evidence shows that the use could be disruptive or out of character with the area.  Reaching out to the neighbors will go far in obtaining a favorable outcome.

If you live in a community that does not allow the proposed use in your home, do not despair.  Many local jurisdictions are coming around to the modern reality that business needs are changing. To retain and attract new residents they must move with the times and enact regulations that are more accommodating to the current economic environment.  The way to change the law is to talk to the local planning office and elected officials about enacting a zoning ordinance text amendment that would allow more flexibility in operating businesses from the home.

In addition to obtaining local zoning permits, many home-based businesses are subject to state or local health department regulations.  Child care operators, caterers, and bed and breakfast establishments, among other businesses,   must also comply with other applicable regulations.

This article is intended as a summary of  federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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