Your Home-based Business and Local Zoning Ordinances

If you have a home-based business, you need to know what the laws are regarding it. These laws are called zoning ordinances. These ordinances state what property owners and dwellers can and cannot do on property—any property—even private property.

In 1916, New York City became the first U.S. city to develop a zoning ordinance. In 1933, Oneida County in Wisconsin became the first rural area to create and enforce a zoning ordinance. Purposes for such ordinances include protecting public health and safety, regulating building, and having a say on where and what activities can be legally conducted in a given area.

The reason zoning laws came about had everything to do with neighborly conduct. Some people did not appreciate having their views suddenly blocked by skyscrapers or a smelter operating right down the road, a shooting range next to the daycare facility, or a strip club opening next door to the white church on the hill. Neighbors wanted a say in what went on around them. They got together with their elected officials and came up with what we now know of as zoning laws or ordinances.

People want good neighbors. They move to a specific area for reasons. Not everyone wants a lot of traffic on his or her road, especially semi-trucks. Some home businesses work on cars or operate junk yards or even animal breeding or boarding services. Although those are fine and needed services, some people might not want to look at junkyards or suffer through continually barking dogs.

In order to be a good neighbor, you are going to want to find out what the zoning ordinances are for your home business area. Look beyond the ordinances you might not agree with to figure out why your neighbors thought they were important.  Talk to your neighbors about what you want to do.

Check when these ordinances became law. Perhaps there were reasons back in 1939 for such a law that no longer exist. Perhaps the neighbors who created the ordinance have long moved away, or the community changed. Maybe and old laws should be stricken and new laws enacted.

If you find your business might not conform to the present zoning ordinances, you can apply for a variance. City and county planning offices can tell you how to apply for a variance. You can expect the planning department to mail your neighbors a notice explaining what you would like to do. Chances are good that your neighbors will not have a problem with it.

For more information, check out the U.S. Small Business Administration website and your local city or county planning department.


There are personal and business home offices. Whether you own a business you operate out of your home or simply need to manage the household, having a specified area to do it in is essential.