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Legal Requirements For Starting A Studio In Your House
Imagine this: you’re sitting there thinking about the perfect location to actually conduct business and wondering what would be the best option. Then it clicks, “Why not have a studio in my home?!” There is no rent, you can stay in bed as long as you want, have clients over on your time, and feel free in your own space. However, before cancelling the new lease you were about to sign somewhere else, there are a few things you MUST know before starting an in-home studio.
Zoning Requirements & HOA Regulations
The biggest obstacle you will face for in-home studios is going to be regarding zoning laws and HOA and/or local ordinances. First, you will need to find and review your city zoning laws. A zoning law is essentially a perimeter that your home falls within and designates what type of, if any, business can be held in that area. You will be able to find this information with your City Clerk and can ask them for help. Then you will then need to look at your HOA regulations. These can usually be found within the deed to your house, or in your rental agreement. These may say that studios/businesses that cause nuisances to their neighbors are restricted. A typical example of this is clients taking up parking spaces that your neighbors need. Be very mindful of your neighbors and make sure you aren’t breaking any HOA regulations!
If your home is denied for an in-home studio by either your City Clerk or HOA, you can file an appeal with the City for a conditional permit that allows you to conduct business at your home, which is where you can describe how you will combat any nuisances or issues the City is worried about. Remember, if you sell your house this permit will not transfer to the new owner.
Licensing & Permits
After getting all of your zoning laws and regulations squared away you are ready to conduct business, right? Not exactly. Something that gets easily misconstrued is that an in-home studio is still a studio, and needs all of the permits and licenses required as if you were not at home and in an actual brick-and-mortar commercial location. You need a general business license, professional license, health and safety permits, and any other permits required by your state. For in-home studios you may need a few other permits, such as a “sign permit” which allows you to advertise your business at your home. For example, you cannot put your logo up and point customers to your door if you do not have a proper permit. Some cities also have specific “in-home” business permits that you may need to acquire.
One more thing to consider is insurance. There is a big difference between home or renters insurance and business insurance. Home/Renters insurance covers damages to the home itself, like theft, floods, house fires, etc. that are on more of a personal level. Business insurance covers those issues plus anything related to business happenings in the home (including insuring your business equipment associated with the studio, negligent injuries during an in-home photoshoot, stolen business items, etc.). If your in-home studio is broken into or is the actual cause of the fire (e.g. off-camera lighting breaking), your home insurance will likely not cover that because it's an express exclusion in your policy. Essentially, what you need to know is that your personal home and your business are separate entities that fall under different liabilities and risks. You will need to find an insurance plan for both, separately, or a plan that covers both entities under the same policy (such as an additional rider for your in-home business that is in addition to your home policy). Be very, very careful about this and work with an insurance broker to ensure you’re getting all the correct insurance.
Fines, Fees, & Legal Issues
Finally, DO NOT try to go with an ‘under-the-table’ route. It may seem easy to have a studio that no one knows about, and it may work for a certain period of time. However, when you get caught, which is highly likely since neighbors are pesky, there will be huge repercussions. You can lose your business altogether or at minimum be put on a probationary period of some sort, be responsible for fines, and are in jeopardy of being sued for fraudulent business practices. ALWAYS, go the legal route. It may take more time but it will save you in the long run.
At the end of the day, it is a great choice to have an in-home studio and lots of TLP community members do this. It lets your studio have a personable ambiance to your clients and can cut down a significant amount of overhead costs. However, don’t think of it as an ‘easier’ route for opening your studio because there are steps that to oversee. Remember, you should always seek legal advice if you are unclear about your local laws and regulations surrounding doing business at home.
For more general information, check out this link to the Small Business Administration’s handbook for in-home business regulations.
Don't forget to check out our Studio Rental Contract!
THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT & IS FACT-SPECIFIC. A proper legal analysis is necessary based on your location and contract. Consult an attorney in your home state for advice regarding your contract or specific legal situation.