Can I Run A Business From My House?

November 1, 2010

You’re ready to act upon that million-dollar idea and start a home-based business. Before you know it, you’ll be tripling your net worth in your bathrobe.

Assuming you’re not violating any zoning laws.

Before you launch a business empire from your kitchen table, you need to review county and municipal ordinances, as well as your homeowner association’s rules.

These laws, ordinances and covenants do serve a valid purpose. They’re designed to protect people from home-based business activities that can endanger the safety and serenity of life in your neighborhood. Noise, traffic and bright lights can reduce the quality of life for all residents, and negatively impact property values.

The good news is, if your home-based business has “no impact” (you have no employees and don’t generate customer traffic), you’re probably not violating any zoning laws.

If your business does have “impact,” the primary restrictions you’ll face include:

• Physical Changes and Visibility: Most zoning codes restrict changing your home’s exterior to promote business. They also prohibit commercial signage.

• Traffic: The maximum number of employees working in, and customers visiting a home, are usually defined by ordinance, as is the amount of parking to accommodate both.

• External Effects: Most codes restrict nuisances such as noise and odor, and prohibit the storage of hazardous material.

If you’re not negatively impacting the neighborhood, but are still in violation of zoning laws, you can file for a special exception or variance. This process can be expensive and time consuming, however, and, if successful, can generate additional problems.

By securing a variance, you’ve alerted regulatory authorities to your business, and invited fire, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other inspections, and the potential for never-ending “compliance” expenses. Plus, one complaint from a grouchy neighbor can result in your exception being revoked.

Since home-based businesses make up nearly half of all those in the U.S., many municipalities are making a concerted effort to reduce the red tape around such enterprises. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Do your homework, and take whatever steps necessary to comply with all zoning laws. Even if it means buying an OSHA-approved kitchen table that can support those millions.

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