Dealing with Zoning Laws for Your Home-Based Business

Zoning laws are, among other things, the government’s favorite way of trying to keep residential areas residential and business areas business. Local government's zoning laws make everyone (well, almost everyone) happy.

Here are some of the categories of rules that zoning laws may impose in your particular city or county:

  • Advertising signage

  • Parking and vehicle traffic

  • The percentage of your home devoted to business, if you run a home-based business

  • The number of people you can employ and the jobs you employ them to perform

  • The use of hazardous materials and chemicals

  • Noise, smoke, and odor

Although your local zoning laws may permit you to run your home-based business as you intend, your particular neighborhood may have covenants or other deeded restrictions on those very same activities. Check your real estate purchase documents to see if such covenants or restrictions may apply to you.

So what can you do if zoning regulations make you home-based business illegal or are so restrictive that you can't operate your business effectively? You could certainly ignore the regulations and hope you don't get caught, but that isn't the best long-term solution. You'll find that at least one of your neighbors won't be happy about some aspect of your business and will file a complaint. It will soon come to light that you are breaking the law, and if you're breaking the law, you'd better be ready to pay the consequences — and then move your business somewhere else.

A better idea is to try one of the following approaches:

  • Request a variance. Government agencies and departments routinely grant variances to rules and regulations. Often, you only have to fill out a short form. In other cases, your request may have to be publicly heard before your city council, zoning board, or other body.

  • Fight city hall. In some cases, you may have no other choice but to take action to change the rules or regulations that restrict your ability to conduct your business. A variety of approaches are available to you, from buttonholing your district’s council member, to circulating a petition, to lobbying for legislative change, to filing a lawsuit.

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