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Starting a Home Business: Should You See an Attorney?


Written by Martin Crim and Eileen Settlemyer

Zoning for your home business

Are you interested in operating a business out of your home? In the digital age, starting a business out of your garage or home office is more common than ever. However, most municipalities have very specific requirements for commercial use of residential property that many aren’t aware of until it’s too late. Best case scenario, you may already comply with local zoning ordinances and just need to register your home business. Worst case scenario, you may have to close your business or move it off-site. Here are some things to consider when operating a business out of your home:

What kind of business you have or want to operate

A typical zoning ordinance, such as the one in Prince William County, Virginia, distinguishes between “home occupations” and “home employment,” which have different approval requirements. They differ in how much impact they have on your neighbors and the neighborhood as a whole.

A “home occupation” refers to home businesses that have no impact on the residential development. There are no non-resident employees or customers coming to the residence and no signage on the property. Because there is no exterior evidence of the business for a home occupation, certificates are relatively easier to obtain than for a home employment. Learn more about the Prince William County home occupation certificate requirements here.

On the other hand, a “home employment” refers to a home business operated in a residence to which employees and customers may come. There are much stricter conditions for approval than home occupation, such as limited signage, operating hours, and number of customers allowed per day. Prince William home employment certificate requirements can be found here.

The rules of your Homeowner’s association

Once you know what type of home business you are operating, check to make sure this use is allowed by your home owner’s association. HOA covenants, rules, or bylaws may have specific restrictions regarding home occupation and/or home employment.

If your HOA does not allow you to operate a home occupation or employment, you may be able to receive an exemption to this rule under your HOA covenants. These are sometimes allowed for home occupation where there is a demonstrable absence of an impact on the neighborhood.  A letter from your neighbors supporting your business is particularly helpful.

Your area’s local zoning ordinances

There are different regulations at the state and local government levels. At the state level, consider sales tax and various regulations on some types of businesses; at the local level, check zoning ordinances and business license requirements.  To determine what your locality’s zoning ordinances will allow:

  • Check zoning maps online or in your local planning office for your zoning district
  • Research the zoning provisions for your zoning district. Look for:
    • Permitted uses, including accessory uses
    • Performance criteria – typically restrictions on impacts of home business

If your business falls outside of the acceptable conditions for your municipality, things get trickier, and you should consult an attorney well versed in zoning law.

While it is possible to run a home-based business without difficulty, it is important to be prepared to defend your business from criticism and opposition. We have attorneys at Vanderpool, Frostick, & Nishanian, P.C. who can help answer your questions regarding your land use, zoning, and municipal law concerns across Northern Virginia.

The following flow chart summarizes the land use controls that may affect your home business:



We’re here to help! Submit this form, and we will send you the applicable home business zoning ordinances for your locality.

Disclaimer: the resources provided in response to this form do not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. This blog is provided by Vanderpool, Frostick, & Nishanian, P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. The information provided should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Home Business Zoning
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