Can your declarations stop your neighbor from operating a cleaning service from their home? With today’s technology, it has become much easier to run a business from one’s home. That, combined with the current economic climate, has resulted in more home-based businesses than ever before—and the number is only expected to increase. For a condominium or homeowner’s association, this can present a number of hurdles. For instance, signage on a cleaning service van may be considered an eyesore to some members; an at-home childcare service may raise questions regarding liability insurance; even a lemonade stand has been the subject of conflict within a community. On the other hand, an owner selling handmade jewelry on eBay, or a web designer providing services over the internet, might not be a problem for most members, and the strict prohibition thereof may raise questions as to whether such restrictions are reasonable.
All of these issues ultimately address one of the main concerns for community associations, which is how to maintain a peaceful environment for all the members. First and foremost, any business activities must conform with local ordinances and licensing laws. A good deal of these issues may already be addressed by state statute or municipal code. For instance, in some states, a daycare service of three children or less does not require a permit and is therefore not considered a business.
The next step is to check the governing documents. Limitations on running an at-home business are usually found under the use restrictions section of the governing documents. Often, these provisions limit the use of a parcel to residential use only; however, these provisions sometimes fail to define what is considered “residential use.” If the governing documents are silent in this matter, the issue can sometimes be resolved by adding to the rules and regulations, so long as they do not contradict the governing documents.
The key is reasonableness. Some regulations allow for business activities under certain circumstances, for instance, so long as the activity is not detectable by sight, sound or smell from the exterior of the unit. Other regulations allow owners to have an at-home business so long as it does not have signs visible from the street or create a volume of passenger or commercial traffic inconsistent with the normal level of traffic within the community.
Apart from enforcing the governing documents, the most important step is to maintain communication with the members. Often, addressing these issues before they arise keeps the community involved and ensures actions taken by the board are viewed as reasonable and responsible. With the growing trend in at-home businesses, it is more important than ever for communities to come together to determine how best to keep up with the technology age.