What You Need to Know About Zoning

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

By Nichole L. Torres

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most cities and many counties have zoning ordinances that limitwhether you can operate a business from home. While manycommunities have modernized their zoning ordinances to recognizethat a computer-based business isn't like a noisy autobody shopor a malodorous hair salon, many communities ban certain kinds ofbusinesses and limit others. Here are some activities communitiesmay restrict:

  • Increased vehicular traffic, both moving and parked on thestreet
  • Prominent signs
  • Employees not related to you working in your home
  • Use of a home more for business than as a residence (determinedby 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; manycommunities make their codes available on their Web sites. You justneed 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 zoningoffice.

Don't blithely ignore zoning. One complaining neighbor canforce you to move or close down. So find out what you'reallowed to do, and get along with your neighbors. With theirsupport, you may be able to get a waiver of restrictions, called avariance or conditional-use permit.

If you belong to a homeowners or property owners association, itmay enforce even harsher restrictions. Find out which regulationsapply, and make sure your neighbors are supportive before you openfor business.

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

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