Potential issues when starting or running a home business

Home businesses could have safety and zoning issues that did not occur to the owner. For instance, a neighbor might complain about more car traffic.

Many people in Massachusetts work from home or run home businesses. Much of the time, it is no problem. For example, a freelance graphic designer might conduct all work on the computer and phone, never having clients come to the house.

However, there can be some logistic and zoning issues with certain types of home businesses.

Client and customer traffic

Business owners might make no additions to their home or set out signs in their yard, but client or customer traffic could be a potential problem. This may be true even in residential areas with commercial variances. The variance could, for instance, forbid truck traffic after 2 p.m. because the neighborhood school gets out at 3 p.m.

Neighbors may also not want to deal with clients or customers who are constantly coming and going and taking up valuable parking spots.

Signage

Signage can be a potential issue as well. A home business might need permission to put a sign out front saying something like, "$15 haircuts inside, call [phone number]." Similarly, a sign with the name of the business and its logo might not be allowed.

Food safety

A common issue has to do with the safety of the public. Say that John decides to start a home-based business where he produces treats such as custards, jams, doughnuts and cupcakes. He goes ahead and starts doing it with his regular oven and kitchen equipment.

However, he should have a permit to use his residential kitchen. This can be an easier process when foods that do not require temperature control are involved. The good news for John: Baked goods tend to fall in this category. The bad news: Creams and custards do not. (Other foods such as meat, beans and rice require temperature control.)

In any case, folks thinking about starting a home-based baking or catering business should get permits and inspections before proceeding.

Equipment

Some types of equipment may be dangerous to operate from home, and business owners need permission to have them. For example, some types of the equipment pose a fire risk, so inspectors would determine if the home has appropriate fire safeguards and that the equipment itself is as safe as possible.

Another common issue with equipment is the risk it poses to a person's physical health: a risk of the equipment falling on the person or the person being hit by it, for example. Some kinds of inventory, too, could be potentially problematic.

Boston has a zoning clinic every Tuesday morning to help folks with home-based business issues and other issues. Lawyers in Massachusetts can also help determine what steps a home business might need to take.