Where a business begins is often the best part of its story. From small shops in the garage to dining-table desks, a business’s first location is an adventure. What is often overlooked is how that location is zoned, and what it could mean if zoning violations are reported.
Plus-Size Clothing Can Be a Plus-Size Problem
Beth was a young fashion connoisseur, but as a “plus-size” woman she often felt limited by her options and knew she wasn’t the only woman in her position. The fashion industry is notorious for shrinking sizes and leaving plus-size women with few stylish options. Beth was ready to do something about it and capitalize on the fashion industry’s shortcomings in the process.
Like so many new business owners, Beth was bootstrapping while she figured out exactly what her new business would look like. She wasn’t thinking about if it would go up in flames, turn into “the Urban Outfitters for plus-size clothing”, or fall somewhere in between. She, like so many of us, just had an idea she was truly excited to get behind and wanted more than anything to give it a shot. In an effort to cut down on expenses she set up shop in her detached garage and before she knew it she was in business! The opportunity to be her own boss was liberating and who was going to stop her?
That’s where Beth’s neighbor comes in. We’ll call him Larry. Larry was an older gentleman who, perhaps after a few too many years in the same arm chair, had gone from a being a happy retiree, to someone whose temperament had soured, to his final iteration and Beth’s new nemesis: a bitter old man. We’ve all met a Larry. He was the type of guy who calls in a noise complaint at the slightest hint of a good time and is characterized by his tenacious stubbornness.
Without knowing it, Beth’s new business operations started to upend Larry’s utopian suburban homestead. While Beth and Larry’s homes and garages were separate, they shared a large, common driveway. As she was preoccupied drafting patterns and sewing dresses, Larry was disturbed by the commotion a sudden influx of delivery trucks was creating in front of his home. Larry's real problem was that, as Beth's deliveries increased, so did their encroachment on his driveway. Even though Larry hardly left home, he still wanted the freedom to do so. He felt he needed to draw a line in the sand, that line being the invisible barrier between his and Beth’s driveways.
Larry made his concerns known to Beth. He considered his communication polite at first, but Beth saw things a little differently. In her mind, Larry never left home and the delivery trucks were only blocking a small portion of his driveway for a few minutes. His complaints started to become irritating, but Beth simply brushed them off as an annoyance and didn’t do anything to appease his requests.
Larry, on the other hand, saw the delivery trucks as a barrier to his freedom! After months of back and forth with Beth, Larry had had enough and called the city to complain about “commercial activity on her property.” It turned out that Beth’s home was zoned strictly for residential use. She was clearly operating a business out of her home and was penalized with a $1,800 fine from the city. While she was upset about the fine, her business was just starting to do well and this was no time for having to find a new commercial space. In addition to the fine, Beth incurred the unexpected costs of moving combined with the added rent she had originally avoided by working out of her garage.
While it’s easy to write Larry off as an old curmudgeon and debate whether or not he was a good neighbor, legally speaking he was completely right. The dream of working for yourself is certainly appealing, but Beth’s story highlights what striving for that dream without the right set of tools and information can lead to. Beth didn’t deliberately ignore the legal framework that was in place, she simply didn’t know any better. When starting a new business, it’s essential to educate yourself on the local, regional, and federal frameworks for the exact type of business you are conducting. Without that knowledge, you could end up next to a Larry who ends up costing you.