Closed businesses. Record unemployment. We have all seen the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, government may be exacerbating that devastation with ordinances which haven’t kept up with technology by restricting your ability to run a business from your home.
Thanks to the internet, smartphones, and social media, it is easier than ever to start and thrive in a home-based business. That’s why it’s becoming more and more popular. Today, there are some 38 million home-based businesses in America. An increase from 27 million less than a decade ago. About half of all small businesses are home-based, according to the Small Business Administration.
And for many, home-based entrepreneurship is a great opportunity. Yes, with hard work you are able to earn a very good living, but with this you are also able to set your own schedule, follow your passions, and spend more time with your children and your family.
Unfortunately, before you get started, you may face a myriad of regulations, restrictions, and fees from local governments. Some, such as restrictions on excessive parking, signage, or noise, are understable. But that can be and usually is handled by general zoning ordinances that have nothing to do with home-based businesses. Instead, we have ordinances limiting who can work in your house and how much square footage your business can use. And you probably have to pay a governmental fee for permission to work
In Southaven, no more than 25 percent of your house can be used to conduct your business. In Biloxi, it’s only 20 percent. In Jackson, you have to be a family member residing in the house to work. Meaning, you can’t grow your business and hire one or two employees. Similar restrictions also apply in Southaven and Biloxi.
Here is what this means: You can have two friends over, and they can be at your home all day. They can park in your driveway. But the moment you go from talking to one another to talking to a client on the phone, it becomes illegal. Even though nothing inside or outside the home has changed. Each city also has a vague prohibition on equipment that isn’t used in the normal operations of a home.
In what world does this make sense?
These local restrictions are part of a national problem. An Arizona woman who ran a medical billing company from her home had to shut her business down after running afoul with the local government. A local government in Georgia shut down a videogame blogger whose primary business was uploading YouTube videos from his house. Nashville sent a cease-and-desist letter to a record producer who had a recording studio in his garage. Similar stories abound.
These restrictions do nothing to protect the integrity of a neighborhood. They don’t have anything to do with “health and safety.” All they do is wreak havoc on your ability to earn a living at home. And their impact is felt all the more during the pandemic.
To protect home-based businesses, the state has the ability and obligation to provide clarity for entrepreneurs. A “no impact” home-businesses is one that doesn’t cause a disruption, and which wouldn’t otherwise be distinguishable from a home without a business. Such a business should be exempt from onerous regulatory requirements, such as a “bookkeeping fee.” It should not be restricted from having employees or forced to calculate what percent of the home is used for business.
We don’t know what the economy will look like in 10 years. We don’t even know what it will really look like in a year or two. But we do know we shouldn’t turn honest, hardworking individuals into criminals. Instead, the government should get out of the way and allow, and even encourage, entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams, to start a home-business, and to grow and flourish, not only for their own betterment but that of their community.
This column appeared in the Commercial Dispatch on September 27, 2020.