One of the perils of running a home-based business is running afoul of the zoning laws. Worse, the zoning officials can force you to close down your business. Sounds unreal? It may be so, but there have been many instances when home businesses have been forced to shut down because they were found to be in violation of zoning restrictions.
Zoning laws are designed to preserve a neighborhood’s residential character and thereby maintain property values. Some zoning regulations are stricter than others. In some areas, home businesses
- Could operate only on a part-time basis.
- Are limited in terms of the floor space designated to the business (in some areas, home businesses cannot take up no more than 250 square feet in a house)
- Have limits on the amount of car and truck traffic
- Prohibits outside signs; or if allowed, sizes and placement of signs are carefully monitored
- Have restrictions on the number of employees
- Have restrictions on the allowed number of customers per hour
- and many more
Cheltenham Township in Pennsylvannia has a detailed list of what can a home business do and what it cannot, and as you can see from their zoning laws — it is very detailed (and yes, restrictive.)
So what can you do to make sure that you don’t run afoul of the zoning laws?
- When registering your business, take time to ask about the zoning restrictions for home businesses so you can be aware of what you can, and cannot do.
- If you are thinking of buying a house into a community and you are already running a home business, be sure to check the zoning restrictions before you close on the property.
- Neighbors can be powerful allies — or enemies. They can report you to the zoning board and complain about the traffic or the comings and goings of people in your house (can you imagine if they complain that you are a drug dealer because of the constant stream of people and they do not know that you are a consultant working from home?) Get their support early on; even be open to them as to what you can do.
- If you have a lot of pickups and deliveries, consider having an alternative location such as private mailbox service.