What You Need to Know About Home Business Zoning


You may have heard the expression, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Well, this doesn’t hold true with property zoning laws and home businesses.

Local zoning laws can ban or restrict business licenses and operations in residential areas. Before you hang out your shingle, learn more about zoning regulations.

What is Home Business Zoning?

Zoning definitions are generally similar in most county and local zoning codes. For example, residential zones are further separated into areas such as R-1, R-2 and R-3, with R-1 being most densely populated.

To locate home businesses in a residential area, you need to research the zoning laws established by the zoning department or board of the governing entity. For example, even if the area is not located within a business zoning area, you may be able to conduct certain business activities from your home.

How Zoning Laws Work for Home-Based Businesses

Within the language of most zoning codes, the type of business activities and business licenses allowed are defined. Home office zoning laws typically detail and define the requirements for a “low-impact” home-based business.

For example, if a home business requires no increase in “traffic” into a neighborhood, it could be considered a low-impact home business.

For example, let’s compare two people who have a home occupation which is building decorative wooden clocks. Both construct the clocks in the basement of a home. Once a week, one person packs up the clocks and sells them at a local Farmer’s Market. The other person posts pics of the clocks on social media, inviting people to buy them at the house.

A low-impact home-based business is one that causes no increase in vehicle traffic. Home occupations that require traffic, such as professional offices, retail store type activity, or dog groomers, aren’t considered low impact by most local planning and zoning offices. A low-impact business typically may not have employees.

home business zoning

How to Check Your Local Zoning Ordinances

Within a state, local zoning laws may be established by a county board or a town or township within the county. Most cities have their own separate rules regarding zoning. Start your search with zoning and planning officials at your local level. What if you learn that due to zoning ordinances, your plan for a home-based business isn’t allowed in residential areas? If you feel your home business should be allowed, despite local ordinances, you have options.

A county or local zoning board can grant a variance. Wondering “What is zoning variance?” It’s a type of special exception that may allow you to use your home for business purposes. You would request that the zoning board hold a public hearing regarding your request for a special exception. The board will notify your neighbors about the upcoming hearing, and the neighbors will be permitted to attend the meeting and voice their support or concerns.

A great majority of special exception hearings for home occupations are successful, especially in many cases if the applicant has legal representation – an attorney knowledgeable in zoning law. A board may grant a permit but state “with the following restrictions” such as no signage on the residence, or no services before or after certain hours.

Other Restrictions You Should Know About

Zoning law can be a maze of regulations. A homeowners association may supersede local ordinances by adding certain types of rules and restrictive covenants that preclude any commercial activities within its boundaries.

It can be valuable to consult an attorney. When you search for an attorney, check your local news source and see who serves as a solicitor or lawyer for local planning and zoning boards. That’s the type of attorney you should contact.

Other Types of Zoning

You’ll have more freedom on how you use your property in other zoning designations, such as Ag (agricultural) or Rural (R), generally for properties with a location on a larger piece of land. Industrial zones are solely for industry – not for residences.

Some counties have no zoning laws. For example, a large part of Maine is designated as “unorganized territory” and has no zoning laws regarding businesses. Some rural counties have no zoning laws you need to know about.

A city most often has its own set of rules for any commercial enterprise which will operate from a house. The rules may vary in certain areas, especially in areas of high density such as high-rise apartment buildings or row homes (homes that share a common wall). Each location in a city may have a certain set of regulations, defining the types of businesses and services that are allowed.

FAQs

Can an apartment be used as an office?

Depending on local ordinances, it’s possible, even in a city. Check with your city council zoning ordinance. The office would have to be a low-impact, work-from-home business with no employees.

Also, if the apartment is rented, or part of a condo or owner’s association, that type of use may be subject to laws specific to those properties. Before you start, contact the proper authorities.

Can you run more than one business in your home?

That may depend on the size of the home. Most local zoning codes specifically state the square footage for a home-based business, as a percentage of the entire square footage of the home.

For example, zoning regs may state that a home-based business may occupy no more than 10% of the square footage of a home. If a home is 1200 square feet, the home business can operate in 120 square feet, or a 10 x 12 room.

If you do designate an area for a home-based business, remember you may be able to claim that on your taxes. However, that can also increase your likelihood of being audited.

Should you try to get around local zoning laws?

No. Someone from your community may contact the local zoning entity and report you. Not only will you be fined, but your business will also most likely be shut down.

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.