If you’re opening a small business, one of the most important tasks with regard to choosing a physical location is making sure that the type of business activities you intend to perform at the location are compliant with local zoning laws. Many businesses have been shut down because of non-compliance with zoning regulations, so ensuring that all your legal bases are covered is key to success.
Permits and regulations
Even if you’re just running a small, home-based business, you may need to get a home occupation permit before starting operations. If your home is located in an area zoned for residential use only, the type of buisness activities you’re allowed to conduct may be severely limited. Restrictions may be in place regarding what you can store at your home and how much traffic can go in and out of your residence.
Professions that are most likely to be allowed to operate home-based businesses in residential areas include attorneys, accountants, music instructors, insurance salesmen, architects and similar occupations. Retailers, repair shops, manufacturers, restaurants and bars are typically not allowed to operate from home-based businesses.
Some areas may ban home businesses altogether. Mixed-use neighborhoods offer more business options.
Even if the law allows you to operate a home business, private agreements such as neighborhood covenants, or rental leases may forbid businesses from being operated from your home.
To find out about local zoning laws, visit your municipality’s planning department or take a look at its website. Ask questions about home businesses and their legality in your neighborhood and also pick up any necessary permit application.
If your local zoning laws do allow your home-based business to operate in your neighborhood, you still may face some restrictions, such as rules dictating that only residents of your home may be employees, rules limiting traffic in and out of your home, rules concerning the percentage of your home’s area allowed to operate as a business, signs outside your home advertising the business and parking restrictions.
Gray areas and dealing with neighbors
If you’re operating in a potential gray area with regard to your neighborhood’s zoning laws, it’s best to keep a low profile. Keep traffic and noise to a minimum. Most zoning enforcement actions are complaint-driven, so if you’re not bothering your neighbors, chances are you won’t attract a zoning complaint.
Prior to opening up shop, you may want to let neighbors know that you’re going to operate a small-homebased business, and assure them that your business won’t interfere with their quality of life. Communicating with your neighbors about your plans may help head off any potential conflicts.