With entrepreneurism at an all time high, small businesses are starting up everywhere--even in studio apartments. While most residential leases require tenants to abide by local zoning laws and to use the premises for "residential purposes only," many local zoning ordinances actually permit a certain degree of business activity to be conducted.
For instance, the New York City Zoning Resolution1 permits residential premises to be used for commercial or professional purposes, provided that such occupancy is "clearly incidental to or secondary to the residential use of a dwelling unit or rooming unit." But there are limits. Here's a rundown on the types of uses that are expressly permitted and prohibited under New York City law. For buildings outside New York City, consult county law and town ordinances for similar restrictions. Limitations on permissible home occupations include the following:

  • the tenant may employ only one other person "in connection with the practice of a profession," (who need not be a resident of the unit);
  • the commercial or professional occupancy of the unit may not exceed more than twenty-five percent of the total floor area of such unit "and in no event more than 500 square feet of floor area";
  • off-premises sale of articles is prohibited;
  • "exterior displays, or a display of goods visible from the outside" are prohibited;
  • storage of materials or products outside of the building is prohibited;
  • the display of "a nameplate or other sign except as permitted in connection with the practice of a profession" is prohibited;
  • "extreme structural alterations" are prohibited, as are "offensive noise, vibration, smoke, dust or other particulate matter, heat, humidity, glare or other objectionable effects."

    Zoning ordinances cite the following list of permissible "home occupations":
  • fine art studios;
  • professional offices; and
  • instruction of no more than four pupils simultaneously, except "in the case of musical instruction, of not more than a single pupil at a time."

    New York City Zoning ordinances expressly prohibit the use of residential premises for:
  • advertising or public relations agencies;
  • barber shops;
  • beauty parlors;
  • commercial stables or kennels;
  • depilatory, electrolysis or similar offices;
  • interior decorators' offices or workshops;
  • ophthalmic dispensing;
  • pharmacies;
  • real estate or insurance offices; and
  • veterinary medicine.

    1. Zoning Resolution of the City of New York 12-10. You can access a Web version of the New York City Zoning Resolution and view Zoning Maps at www.ci.nyc.ny.us (click "City Planning," then click "Zoning"). This article originally appeared in the monthly newsletter, Landlord-Tenant Practice Reporter. Reprinted with permission from SideBar Press, Inc. For subscription information, call (845) 348-7783.

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