What You Need to Know About Zoning

Pay attention to your community's laws before opening your doors.

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Most cities and many counties have zoning ordinances that limit whether you can operate a business from home. While many communities have modernized their zoning ordinances to recognize that a computer-based business isn't like a noisy autobody shop or a malodorous hair salon, many communities ban certain kinds of businesses and limit others. Here are some activities communities may restrict:

  • Increased vehicular traffic, both moving and parked on the street
  • Prominent signs
  • Employees not related to you working in your home
  • Use of a home more for business than as a residence (determined by the percentage of space used for the business)
  • Selling retail goods to the public
  • Storing hazardous materials inside or outside your home

Investigating your area's zoning restrictions is easy; many communities make their codes available on their Web sites. You just need to know the zoning classification for your home (that is, R-1, R-2, R-3, etc.), which you can find at your city or county zoning office.

Don't blithely ignore zoning. One complaining neighbor can force you to move or close down. So find out what you're allowed to do, and get along with your neighbors. With their support, you may be able to get a waiver of restrictions, called a variance or conditional-use permit.

If you belong to a homeowners or property owners association, it may enforce even harsher restrictions. Find out which regulations apply, and make sure your neighbors are supportive before you open for business.

Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need (Entrepreneur Press)

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