Q&A on Modernizing Home Business Laws

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What does the law say now?

The current law allows home-based businesses – but only if you go to the Codes Department for a permit and *never* allow a client to visit your home office.

What’s wrong with the law now?

Several things are wrong. The current law is archaic – written in another time when fewer people started businesses and there wasn’t the technology to do nearly as much from home. Among the problems:

  • Tens of thousands of licensed businesses are operating outside the law, but we’re treating it as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
  • The current law blocks budding entrepreneurs from being able to afford their no-impact side gigs, costing many the ability to stay in their homes.
  • The current law allows commercial vehicles onto our neighborhood streets, doesn’t regulate uses or hours of operation, and leaves our law unenforceable.

How will this modernization bill change the law?

This law will finally give residents a clear, reasonable set of guidelines to follow that appropriately balances residents’ rights to make a living with the protection of neighborhoods.

What kind of business activity will be allowed?

A specific set of businesses will be allowed to operate under specific conditions. They are:

  • personal instruction: training in arts, fitness, personal defense, crafts or other subjects of a similar nature
  • general office: space for executive, management, administrative or professional services, but not involving medical services
  • personal care services: fitness, beauty care, and barber care
  • multimedia production: recording of video or audio productions
  • artisan manufacturing: the design and creation of products like food and bakery products, jewelry and clothing/apparel, and furniture

How many clients will be allowed to visit a business, and when?

Clients will be allowed to visit by appointment only and only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. No more than three visits per hour and six hours per day are permitted.

What about noise, signs, and other obvious business activity?

Any sign that there’s business activity occurring is prohibited. In other words, if you can tell the difference between someone coming to hang out and someone conducting business, it’s not allowed.

Will people be able to repair cars at their homes?

Absolutely not. Auto repair remains prohibited. In fact, any outdoor business activity is banned.

Could entire homes be turned into businesses?

No. Businesses would remain an “accessory use,” just like they are now. That means a small business’s owner must live there with only a small portion of the home, or a detached garage, used for business.

How would this help Nashvillians stay in Nashville?

As Nashville becomes increasingly expensive, our residents are increasingly having difficulties making ends meet. Many Nashvillians have ideas for side businesses but are forced to decide between breaking the law and risking being priced out.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected this conversation?

Many small businesses that rarely see clients in person are struggling and unable to afford commercial rents. For no-impact businesses, this provides an alternative.

How will enforcement occur?

The same as it does now – following either a complaint about noncompliant activity or an inspector observing it. However, more forms of evidence of noncompliance will be accepted than there are now.

Will this increase the burden on our Codes inspectors?

No, the burden will be lessened significantly. Currently, Codes is charged with policing tens of thousands of businesses that aren’t bothering anyone but nevertheless do not have a permit to operate. This will relieve them of that onus and allow them to focus on bad actors who are really doing damage.

Besides the current burden, what’s wrong with “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

Many no-impact businesses have operated for years with the blessing of neighbors, become a part of the neighborhood, and become an essential part of the household budget, only to be suddenly shut down due to a Codes complaint. This is patently unfair, and oftentimes the complaint has nothing to do with the business’s impact.

One Codes inspector testified under oath that 40 percent of complaints have ulterior motives—things like settling a grudge, being “upset because a neighbor got a new car,” or trying to shut down a competitor.

Additionally, while some entrepreneurs might have the resources to fight back against bad faith complaints, many Nashvillians struggling to get by won’t have the money or the power to do it.

This is no way to govern. Our residents deserve certainty and fairness.

Does this proposal protect the residential character of neighborhoods?

Yes, aggressively. The law is tightly crafted to ensure that homes remain primarily residences, there is no sign of business activity, and additional vehicle traffic is virtually non-existent.

Is this similar to the issue surrounding AirBnBs (short term rentals or STRs)?

It is 100% NOT. While it’s understandable that some may think this at first given the messy conversation surrounding STRs, this couldn’t be different.

STRs bring strangers into unoccupied homes overnight.

This bill brings known clients of the homeowner to visit for a short period of time during the day, no different than a friend or acquaintance coming to visit.

How do other cities handle home-based businesses?

An analysis of Nashville’s peer cities show that almost all of them have home business laws far more relaxed than even this proposal. Nashville is among very few that are so intolerant of residents making a living in their own homes.

How can I help get this change made?

The bill will be in front of the Metro Council for a final vote on July 7. Help by: