You may have heard the phrase, “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Well, this does not apply to zoning laws for real estate and home businesses.
Local zoning laws may prohibit or restrict business licenses and activities in residential areas. Find out more about zoning regulations before you lay your shingles.
What is a home business zone?
Zone definitions are generally similar across most county and local zoning codes. For example, residential zones are further subdivided into areas such as R-1, R-2, and R-3, with R-1 being the most densely populated.
To locate home businesses in a residential area, you must refer to the zoning regulations established by the zoning department or the management board of the managing entity. For example, even if the area is not in a business zone, you may be able to run a certain business from home.
How zoning laws work for home based businesses
The language of most zoning codes defines the type of business and the licenses allowed to operate. Home office zoning regulations typically detail and define the requirements for a “low impact” home business.
For example, if a home-based business does not require an increase in “traffic” in the neighborhood, it can be considered a low-impact home business.
For example, let’s compare two people whose homework is building decorative wooden clocks. The two construct clocks in the basement of the house. Once a week, one person packs the clocks and sells them at the local market. The second person posts pictures of the clocks on social media, inviting people to buy them at home.
A low-impact home business is one that doesn’t increase vehicle traffic. Domestic occupations that require movement, such as professional offices, retail stores, or dog grooming, are not considered minor by most local planning and zoning offices. A low impact company may typically have no employees.
How to check local zoning ordinances
Within the state, local zoning regulations may be set by the county board or the city or municipality within a county. Most cities have their own separate zoning rules. Start your search with local zoning and planning officials. What if you find out that due to zoning ordinances, your home business plan is not allowed in residential areas? If you think your home business should be allowed despite local ordinances, you have options.
The county or local zoning board may grant a waiver. You wonder “What is zonal variance?” This is a kind of special exception that may allow you to use your home for business purposes. You would like the zoning board to hold a public hearing on your request for a special exception. The board will notify your neighbors of the upcoming hearing and neighbors will be able to attend the meeting and express their support or concerns.
The vast majority of special homework exception hearings are successful, especially in many cases where the applicant has a legal representative, a solicitor who is familiar with zoning law. The board can grant permission but states “with the following restrictions”, such as no signage at the residence or no service before or after certain hours.
Other restrictions you should know about
Land use law can be a labyrinth of regulations. A Homeowners Association can replace local ordinances by adding certain types of rules and restrictive covenants that preclude any commercial activity within its boundaries.
Consulting with an attorney can be valuable. When you’re looking for an attorney, check your local news source and see who serves as a solicitor or solicitor for your local planning and zoning councils. You should contact such an attorney.
Other types of zones
You will have more freedom to use property in other zones such as Ag (farming) or Rural (R), generally for a property located on a larger piece of land. Industrial zones are for industry only – not residences.
Some counties do not have zoning laws. For example, much of Maine is designated as “unorganized territory” and has no zoning laws that apply to businesses. Some rural counties do not have zoning laws that you need to be aware of.
The city most often has its own set of rules for each commercial enterprise that will operate from home. Rules may differ in some areas, especially in high-density areas such as high-rise buildings or row houses (houses that share a common wall). Each location in the city may have a specific set of regulations that define the types of businesses and services that are allowed.
Frequently asked questions
Can the apartment be used as an office?
Depending on local ordinances, this is possible, even in the city. Check with your city council’s zoning ordinance. The office would have to be a low-impact, home-based business with no employees.
In addition, if the dwelling is rented or is part of a dwelling or an association of owners, this type of use may be subject to the rules applicable to those properties. Before you start, contact the relevant authorities.
Can you run more than one business from your home?
This may depend on the size of the house. Most local zoning codes explicitly specify the area for a home business as a percentage of the total area of the home.
For example, zoning laws may state that a home-based business may occupy no more than 10% of the area of a home. If the home is 1,200 square feet, a home business can operate in 120 square feet or a 10 x 12 room.
If you designate an area for a home business, keep in mind that you can claim it on your taxes. However, it may also increase the likelihood of being audited.
Should you try to circumvent local zoning laws?
NO. Someone in your community may contact your local zoning authority and report you. Not only will you be fined, but your business will most likely be shut down.
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