The Legal Issues of Running Your Business from an Apartment

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Running your business from an apartment may not be as easy as you’d hoped. Since most towns have zoning laws that separate business and residential use of buildings, knowing your local laws is a must before planning to work from your apartment.

What Are Zoning Laws?

Your city or town has rules about how different areas and buildings in those areas can be used. Typically, an area will be zoned for residential use, business use or mixed use. Town planning boards sometimes make exceptions to these rules. As part of these rules, there will be established guidelines pertaining to using a residential dwelling for business use.

Home Business Ordinances

Your town will have some sort of ordinance or statute establishing rules for home businesses. Such ordinances vary considerably, but do have certain elements in common. For instance, you are not allowed to do anything that would ruin the residential character of your building or street. An example would be running a business that has dozens of customers coming in and out of your apartment each hour. As a general rule, the number of employees permitted in an apartment business is restricted and the number of customers or clients you can have coming and going is restricted as well.

Checking a Town’s Laws Prior to Renting

If you’re planning to run a business and looking to rent a new apartment, check the local laws prior to selecting a location. With the increase in telecommuting in recent years, most towns allow some type of business activity in residences. Before renting, be certain that your business will not fall within the scope of prohibited activities.

Your Apartment’s Rules on Home Businesses

Once you’ve located an area where you can run your apartment business, you must also check the apartment’s rules about home businesses. If you’re renting an apartment in a condominium complex be aware that condominiums often have stricter rules pertaining to the type of business you can run from your apartment than a rental building. Ask about the rules before signing a lease so that you don’t run into trouble down the road.

Obtaining a Business License

Some towns require home business owners to obtain a license. Even if the type of business you run doesn’t require you to be licensed, your city or town may require you to register your business at city hall. Find out whether this is necessary and what the penalties are for failing to comply.

Complying with the Laws

Obtain a copy of the home business ordinance and any other related laws before moving into your apartment. Set up your business so that you are in compliance with all laws and rules. Your neighbors have a right to file a complaint about your activities with either your landlord or your town’s home business enforcement office. The best way to avoid having your business curtailed or shut down is to know your rights, respect the rights of your neighbors and follow the law to the letter.


Lisa Bernstein: As a long-time apartment dweller and seasoned condominium trustee, I have dealt with numerous landlord-tenant, property management, and day-to-day apartment complex issues. My extensive, direct experience has led to invaluable insights into apartment life from both the tenant and management perspectives.


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