Let's say that you know that your locality has zoning laws that prohibit running a business in your home. If you already have a home business or plan to start one, what are the consequences of violating zoning rules? Technically, if you are violating zoning laws by having a business in your home, you can be forced to close down. On the other hand, you may be able to remedy whatever is causing a nuisance and your business will be allowed to continue operating.
While home offices or businesses have been shut down for violating zoning rules, the rules are often enforced only if neighbors complain about disturbances resulting from the operation of a home-based business. That's why arguably the most crucial step in operating a home business free and clear of zoning problems is getting your neighbors' approval. Their approval need not be explicit — although being upfront with them about what you are doing may work best.
If, according to your judgment and personal history with your neighbors, you don't feel comfortable approaching them directly, you can get their implicit approval of your home business. You can do this by keeping increased traffic, noise, and any other undesirable traits for residential neighborhoods to a minimum, so that they barely notice your business is there.
A good barometer to use is the fact that you live in the neighborhood, too. If it wasn't your own business that was causing a particular change, how would you feel about it? While a change in the character of the neighborhood may be unavoidable, that change must be kept below the level where neighbors are angry or disturbed enough to lodge complaints. Formal complaints by neighbors could jeopardize not only the existence of your home business, but your quality of life as well. After all, not only do you work in the neighborhood — you live there, too!
If, despite your efforts to the contrary, you run into or anticipate running into zoning problems because of your home office or business, you can apply to the zoning or planning board for a variance. Keep in mind that avoiding this step is extremely desirable because variances are not easily granted. The following criteria have been used to determine whether variances should be granted: