You’ve decided to start a business and work from your home. So you start planning to remodel your garage or add an extension to your house to make room for your home office. Before you do anything, better get the blessings of your local government first.
Part of the process of legalizing your business involves checking with your zoning laws and determining your business compliance. You wouldn’t want to make the mistake of setting up a home business at home, only to find that zoning laws prohibit you from converting your home into a business area.
While many operate without bothering to check the zoning regulations covering their residence, doing so makes you susceptible to complaints from neighbors unhappy with the comings-and-goings of delivery trucks and customers, your signage in front of your house, or the noise levels. Most towns have laws on the books limiting the scope of home businesses, but they are rarely enforced until the neighbors start demanding action. Elaine of Florida suddenly found her new home business in peril when neighbors complained to county officials that she violated the zoning laws for starting a catering business from her home.
Alvin Rosenbaum, in his book, “The Complete Home Office: Planning Your Workspace for Maximum Efficiency provides the following general provisions contained in a home office zoning ordinance:
- Only family members residing on the premises may be engaged in the business. Some jurisdictions even state that no more than one or two persons other than a family member may be employed.
- The use of the dwelling for the home occupation should be clearly incidental and subordinate to its use for residential purposes.
- There can be no change in the outside appearance, other than a small sign not exceeding one square foot in the area, non-illuminated and mounted flat against the wall of the principal building. Some areas regulate the use of accessory buildings for home occupations.
- No traffic will be generated by such home occupations in greater volumes than would normally be expected in a residential neighborhood. Many ordinances also prohibit the use and parking of a commercial vehicle on the premises.
- No equipment or process will be used in such home occupation which creates noise, vibration, glare, fumes, or electrical interference detectable to the normal senses off the lot.
- Except for articles produced on the premises, no business inventory may be warehoused on the site.
- There shall be no use of utilities or community facilities beyond what is normal for residential purposes.
The main goal of zoning laws is to curtail high volume or high-traffic activities in a residential neighborhood. Local government officials may not bother with you if you work in office tucked in your attic at home. Neighborhood complaints are the trigger points, which may stem from hanging out even a small sign, having commercial vehicles on the property, putting in additional parking spaces, or having a lot of client or employee traffic.
Before hiring a contractor to add an office space or a warehouse in your backyard, call your zoning board or your planning department and ask for a copy of your jurisdiction’s ordinance. You can also look it up at your local library. Try to research how strictly your local government enforces the ordinance. Do they regularly check out neighborhoods, or do they enforce home occupation ordinances only when someone complains? It is better to be on the safe side always, particularly when it comes to your business.
Recommended Books on Setting Up the Home Office:
- The Smarter Home Office: 8 simple steps to increase your income, inspiration and comfort
- Working from a Home Office Successfully: Best Practice Tips
- Building the Custom Home Office: Projects for the Complete Home Work Space
- Stomp the Elephant in the Office: Put an End to the Toxic Workplace, Get More Done — and Be Excited About Work Again
- Running a Dump Truck Business from Home
- Licenses and Permits for Your Home Business
- Is It Time to Move Out of Your Home Office?
- 21 Steps to Starting a Home Business (Part 2)
- Small Business Legal Checklist