Habitat Staff in Co-op/Condo Buyers
Feb. 24, 2011 — One in a series of easy Q&A guides to co-op / condo buying, selling and owning.
Q. What is a home business?
A. A home business, also called a home office, can run the gamut from a freelance writer at a desk, to a psychologist using a spare room to see patients, to a day-care center with parents and nannies dropping off and picking up kids every day. There is no single definition of what constitutes a "home business" as far as co-ops and condos are concerned. Generally, you have to live in the apartment to call it a home business, but sometimes residents will live in one apartment and own a second, smaller apartment in the building for their home business.There is no real "one-size-fits-all."
Q. Do zoning regulations apply?
A. Different areas have different regulations. In most cases, the home business can take up no more than 25 percent of the home, or 500 square feet, and there can be no more than one other employee working on-site.
Q. If I have city / state permits for my home business, must a co-op / condo board let me run it?
A. While co-ops and condos operate differently, with co-ops having more power to regulate residents, generally boards can pass rules limiting what types of home business are allowed in the building. You may have permits for a day-care center, for instance, but the board still might not allow you to run one.
Q. What about security issues?
A. These are probably the single most important thing to co-op / condo boards and fellow residents, as far as home businesses are concerned. An architectural draftsman, a writer or a painter, who generally have no more visitors than anyone else in the building, will have no more impact on security than anyone else. A psychologist, marriage counselor or attorney would likely have more visitors, but they would be spaced apart and by appointment and are easily controllable by staff in a doorperson building.
A day-care center or a small ad agency might have much more day-to-day foot traffic, though even here, context is important. Are four or five working moms appearing twice a day to drop off and pick up a toddler a realistic security risk? In a co-op or condo building, however, that's ultimately up to the board to decide.
Another type of security that a board will consider will be that that involving the possibility of fire or other physical destruction. It's unlikely a board would allow a glass-blower with an open-fire oven to operate, for example, or allow a plumbing business to store dangerous chemicals.
Q. What are typical things that a board might require?
A. A co-op or condo board can establish rules requiring visitors to log in and out and to wait in the lobby (as opposed to hallways); limiting times that clients / patients may visit; indicating disposal methods for certain types of waste; and restricting noise.
Q. What happens if the board refuses permission and I run a home business anyway?
A. If you're obviously conducting an unacceptable home business, are unwilling to give it up, and are endangering or disturbing other residents, the board will consult its lawyer, who will attempt to present a court with what the law calls a "material obligation" — a matter that affects the health or safety of other residents or puts strains on the facility.
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