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VOL. 42 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 09, 2018
Home business owners face stiff fines for ignoring Metro orders
By Jeannie Naujeck
17.16.250 - Residential accessory uses.
D. Home Occupation. A home occupation shall be considered an accessory use to a residence subject to the following:
(1) The home occupation shall be conducted in a dwelling unit or accessory building by one or more occupants of the dwelling unit. No clients or patrons may be served on the property. No more than one part-time or full-time employee not living within the dwelling may work at the home occupation location.
SOURCE: Metro Codes, www.nashville.gov
Lij Shaw and Patricia Raynor are suing to stop a Metro Nashville Codes provision from being enforced against their home businesses – a recording studio and one-chair salon, respectively.
They are accused of violating a provision of Title 17 of the Zoning Code, which regulates residential uses and includes a prohibition on operating a business in a residential zone without a Home Occupation Permit.
To get the permit, a homeowner must refrain from serving “clients or patrons” on the property. That means even teaching music lessons at home violates the code because students are coming to the home.
The provision, Title 17.16.250(D)(1), is hard to enforce and usually only comes to Metro’s attention if neighbors complain. Anyone can file an anonymous complaint against a neighbor at the Codes Department’s website.
If a complaint is filed, a Codes inspector will investigate, usually first with a phone call. The city then can file a mandatory injunction, or stop order, to cease the activity, and the violator could be assessed court costs.
If the homeowner gets the injunction and ignores it, they could be subject to a “cause hearing” where they must give a reason why they refused to stop the activity.
Then, if the ruling goes against him, the homeowner could be charged a fine of $50 a day, retroactive to the date of the original stop order. If the court finds the homeowner in contempt, they could face jail time.
“It’s happened before but usually only if it’s really egregious,” says Craig Owensby, spokesman for the Metro Planning Department, who relayed information from Codes.
“If you really thumb your nose at it you might go to jail.”
Both Shaw, who owns The Toy Box Studio in a detached converted garage in his backyard, and Raynor, who converted her Donelson garage into a small salon and got a business permit to operate it from the state, have been stopped from operating those businesses.
Both were reported anonymously and do not know who their accusers were.
Both Shaw and Raynor appeared before the Metro Council to apply for a special permit. Both were denied. They filed a joint lawsuit against Metro on Dec. 5, suing to strike down the restriction against serving clients at home.
Metro answered it on Jan. 19 with a motion to dismiss the case. Lawyers representing Shaw and Raynor have filed an opposing brief and the motion will be argued next Friday, March 16 in Chancery Court in downtown Nashville.
“We’re hoping to get a ruling that Lij can keep operating his studio without having to worry about Nashville coming down and destroying his investment and probably forcing him to move,” attorney Keith Diggs says.
To work at home legally, residents of Nashville and Davidson County should get a Home Occupation Permit. They may not have any visible signs on the property, and the office space cannot exceed 20 percent of the area of the premises, and no more than 500 square feet. One employee is allowed to work on the premises.
But plenty of Metro residents work from home without the permit – in “quiet” occupations such as writing, graphic design, bookkeeping, and business consulting. It’s a fact of which the city is well aware.
“They are hard to police unless the neighbors complain,” Owensby acknowledges. “If you’re an accountant nobody knows.”