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Read this before you start your work-from-home business

Working from home with cat as company

The digital era has revolutionised the way we conduct business. The need for large office spaces is slowly eroding as more and more employers choose to allow their staff to work remotely. As a result, the home business model has grown in popularity, with many new entrepreneurs choosing to start their business from home rather than in a business district. But, what are the legal implications of operating a business in a residential area?

“Consumers need to be very careful before choosing to start a business from home. Zoning laws prohibit most businesses from operating in a residential area unless they have received special permission in the form of a temporary departure which cannot be transferred to the next homeowner if the property is sold. Alternatively, consumers can have the area rezoned to a mixed use zone in the hopes of getting legal approval for their home-based business,” cautions Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa.

You probably don’t have to rezone though

Talking to a client

Before you fly into a panic about the one-desk study that functions as your entire accounting practice, you should know that most micro businesses do not require any special permission in order to operate in a residential zone.


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“Although each city has their own city planning regulations, all zoning laws are there primarily to keep the peace in suburban areas. Nobody wants to live next to a busy retail space or a noisy warehouse. So, as long as your business adheres to certain micro-business behavioural criteria, your home business is allowed to operate without any special permission,” Goslett explains.

Top tip: Check your relevant city council’s website; it should have all the information you need around behavioural criteria and requirements.

Examples of businesses that are typically allowed to operate in residential areas include those that belong to the service industry, such as a bed and breakfast, a small hair and beauty salon, a dentist or small medical practice, or a crèche/child care facility (only a certain number of children can be accepted though), with the key condition for all of these home operated businesses being that the dwelling must be predominantly used for residential purposes and the owner of the business must reside in the dwelling.

Toe the line

Setting up a business

It is advisable to chat to somebody at the distract planning office to make sure that you are not infringing on any regulations that govern home-based businesses. If your business is of a different nature than the above described, then you will have to visit your local district planning office in person in order to verify and alter the zoning of your property if need be. The office will be able to advise you on the process required in order to achieve this.


These are the permits you need to set up a business


However, entrepreneurs need to remember that zoning is just one part of the legal process. Any home-based business owner also needs to follow through on the various legal steps involved in starting a regular business, like acquiring a business or trading licence.

“Though it might be tempting to forgo the inconvenience of acquiring the required legal clearances for your home business, all entrepreneurs should go through the necessary steps in order to avoid running into trouble later on,” advises Goslett.

It is not easy to hide the fact that you’re running a business from your neighbours. If one of them takes a dislike to your residential company and lays a complaint (which happens more regularly than you might think), then you could face some serious penalties for operating a home business without the required permissions.

In this case it really is best to play it safe rather than sorry.

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