Getting Started Part II Next Stop Zoning

Beverley Williams

You’ve decided you want to start a home-based business and you’ve researched the kinds of businesses appropriate for you, now you need to think about several other things such as what’s allowed under home occupation ordinances in your area. There may be more than one level of governance you need to check with.

First, check with your local government’s Department of Licensing and Inspections for their Home Occupation Laws. In some locales home-based businesses are governed by the Department of Environmental Protection (although how home-based businesses are an environmental problem is anybody’s guess). Home Occupation Ordinances have changed over the last 10-15 years, mostly for the better.

If you live in a community governed by a Homeowners Association, you need to check the Covenants and Restrictions. You may find these more restrictive than your local government’s ordinances, especially in a tight community i.e., one that includes apartment complexes and town homes.

There are some governments that have chosen to make their laws more restrictive and some that have even banned home-based businesses altogether. Don’t assume you can do what you want in your own home. More than one neighbor has turned in a home-based business owner for operating illegally just out of spite. It is a waste of your time, energy, and resources to start a business in your home before checking out the regulations.

If you are renting, read your lease carefully. Most landlords are cautious about having a business run from a rental property because of liability issues.

So what do you do if a local ordinance or lease prohibits you from operating a business in your home? You have three choices: Quit, Move, or Fight.

If you’ve come this far, you don’t want to quit. Moving may or may not be an option; however, I’ve known people who have moved because of zoning. So that leaves Fight.

How do you fight city hall? With facts and logic. Begin by researching whether or not the subject of changing home occupation ordinances has come up before. If so, why did it fail? Find out who supported the change and contact them for information. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel if someone already has information and insight to the issue.

Contact the local Chamber of Commerce to find out where they stand on the issue. Ask about members who are home-based businesses. The Chamber may be willing to support your efforts by getting their members involved. Find out how to get the item on the city government’s agenda and rally as much support as you can.

If the problem is with your local homeowner’s association, changing the covenants and restrictions is much more difficult. In this case, ask for a special exception hearing and go armed with information about the benefits of home-based businesses in that community. Don’t forget to realistically address the negatives. Most opposition will be to increased traffic and parking issues. Be prepared with reasonable answers to these issues.

If the problem is with your lease, talk with your landlord about your business. Find out if there are concerns that you can do something about such as client traffic, noise, or other common issues.

Times are changing in favor of home-based businesses but there is still opposition. Address the issues in a cool headed, factual manner and you have a good chance of success.

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