Using Your Home for Business

by: Arnold B. Kogan

Thinking about operating a small business out of your home? Well, there are basically two types of businesses that operate from the home. One is taking home paperwork from the job, and the other is operating an altogether separate business.

Maintaining a home office just to complete paperwork is not regulated and can be done even in areas zoned only for residential use.

Operating a business, however, in a residential neighborhood, whether it’s your own or an extension of your employer’s business, can conflict with the rights of your neighbors, and zoning ordinances that limit you to businesses described as “home occupations.”

The Harrisburg “Home Occupation” zoning provisions were adopted in the 1977 revision of the city’s zoning ordinance which focused on the needs of the historic mid-town area that was undergoing a significant revitalization as vacant properties were purchased and restored.

These provisions are less restrictive than those currently in effect in Philadelphia that were last revised in 2003. Structurally, the two cities’ ordinances are different in that Harrisburg’s has a number of specific permitted home occupations while Philadelphia’s is more general and does not list specific occupations that are classified as “home occupations.”

Both Harrisburg and Philadelphia include language in the zoning ordinance to control the intensity of activities of home occupations and prevent conflicts between the “home occupation” and neighboring residents. Philadelphia’s ordinance provides that they “shall not be permitted the use of equipment producing offensive noise, vibration, smoke, dust, odors, heat or glare.” Harrisburg’s ordinance states: “The [‘home occupation’] use shall not create, noise, dust, vibration, smell, smoke, glare, electrical interference, fire hazard, or other hazards or nuisances to any greater or more frequent extent than that usually experienced in an average residential occupancy under normal circumstances wherein no Home Occupation exists.”

The uses specifically listed as “home occupations” in the Harrisburg ordinance were developed from planning studies that examined the then existing uses in the city’s residential zones. Some of those uses such as artist studios were thought to help to create and maintain a dynamic and interesting city environment and others such as the hairdressing shops were thought to provide convenience to city residents.

Before you set up a “home occupation” you should contact the city offices that handle zoning and registration for new businesses. In Harrisburg, the Department of Building and Housing Development’s Bureau of Inspections and Codes Enforcement has a handout for those wanting to establish a “home occupation” or other new business titled New Business in the City of Harrisburg.

It includes a variation of the city’s Business Privilege and Mercantile License Application and a home occupation agreement that the business owner must sign. In Philadelphia, the Department of Licenses and Inspections perform similar services. That department has published a handout titled How to Start a Business in the City of Philadelphia that is available on its website:

This article is not intended to be a substitute for legal or accounting advice. You need to contact your attorney and accountant for advice as to your particular situation. Reading the above handouts before you meet with your advisors will save you time and costs.

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