Location is critical to the success of your business. You probably already know to consider visibility, convenience, and traffic patterns when deciding where to locate. But you may not know there’s another element to consider: zoning. Zoning laws limit the ways you can use property located in that area.
Zoning laws have gotten much more complicated that just separating housing from businesses. Many cities now restrict the types of businesses that can go in a particular area and those restrictions aren’t always obvious (for example, some cities treat churches as “residential” uses). Zoning laws also now include additional requirements: signage, parking, visual appearance, and even limiting the number of businesses.
Fortunately, there are three things you can do to protect yourself from running afoul of the zoning laws:
1. Do your homework! Always check the zoning for a property before you buy or lease it. Some cities will agree to change zoning, but in those cases its best to make the sale or lease contingent on the zoning change going through.
2. Be nice to your neighbors—cities usually wait until a neighbor complains before pursuing violations. Building good relationships with your neighbors gives them less reason to complain.
3. Never rely on how the previous owner used the property—just because the previous owner used the property for a particular business doesn’t mean you can. The previous owner might have been grandfathered in (the business existed before the zoning law) or no one challenged its existence.
Remember, fighting zoning laws can be difficult and expensive. On top of that, cities usually have quite a bit of leeway to make and enforce zoning laws. Instead of fighting them, plan ahead to find the perfect location for your business that has the right zoning.