Musician Files Lawsuit to Legalize Music in Nashville Home

Nashville—Kings of Leon began its award-winning music career in an American garage studio. But if it tried to do so in Nashville today, it would strike a sour note with the city. So instead of making music at home in Music City, U.S.A., a Nashville recording artist is joining with a local hair stylist to make the local government sing a different tune in court. Nashville residents Lij Shaw and Pat Raynor have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the Beacon Center of Tennessee to file a lawsuit against the Metro Council’s ban on business owners receiving clients in their homes.

A 1998 addition to Nashville’s residential zoning ordinance prohibits any so-called “home occupations” from serving clients on their property. The law, which the Nashville Metro Council passed without public debate or any record of its reasoning, imposes steep fines and potential imprisonment on local musicians, hair stylists, interior designers and other aspiring entrepreneurs if any customers physically come to their homes to do business.

“Home-based businesses have been a common, legitimate and entrepreneurial use of property for centuries,” said Keith Diggs, an attorney at IJ, which, together with the Beacon Center, represents the plaintiffs. “They cost less to start up, they promote a better work-life balance and they create jobs that otherwise might not exist. The Metro Council’s home-business ban needlessly hurts people, like Lij and Pat, who are just trying to earn an honest living.”

Lij, a single father, invested thousands of dollars to convert his detached garage into a professional recording studio. Lij, who has lived in East Nashville for 17 years, has recorded nationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning performers such as John Oates, Tori Amos, Wilco and the Zac Brown Band. Pat, a semi-retired widow, undertook an expensive renovation to her garage to open up a one-chair hair salon with a valid Tennessee cosmetology license.

Unfortunately, the Nashville codes department moved to shut both of them down. Lij’s recording studio has lost significant revenue since a city officer ordered him to stop publishing his address in advertisements. Meanwhile, Pat has been forced to rent a costly and inconvenient commercial studio just to support herself and keep her hair styling practice in business .

“I’m a musician. Part of what I love about Nashville is my ability to make a living and support my family doing something I love,” said Lij. “My home studio allows me to spend quality time with my daughter while keeping a roof over our heads. A man’s home is his castle, and I should have the right to earn a living in mine.”

Adding insult to injury, Nashville exempts a small set of home-based businesses from its client prohibition. The zoning code allows home-based daycares to serve up to 12 clients a day on the property. People who live in historic homes are also allowed to use their homes up to several times a week for special events, such as wedding receptions and catered dinners. But other home businesses, like Pat’s and Lij’s, are not so lucky.

The Institute for Justice analyzed Nashville’s business records and found at least 1,600 home-based businesses operating within the limits of Nashville’s consolidated city-county jurisdiction. Unfortunately, many of them are illegal, and the ban can be as disastrous as a lightning strike for the unlucky few who get caught. Nashville’s own planning commissioners have said this law is against the American way, and the top councilwoman for zoning has called it “dishonest.” Even the law’s defenders, like former Councilman Carter Todd, have boasted that Nashville’s thriving illicit home-business scene doesn’t “bother anybody” while ironically working to keep it illegal.

“This unnecessary and unconstitutional home-based business ban hurts honest and hardworking entrepreneurs in Nashville. Lij and Pat are productive, taxpaying citizens who are being punished for showing initiative and offering services that help other people,” said Beacon Center litigation director Braden Boucek. “Home-based businesses offer people an accessible path to entrepreneurship. It shouldn’t be illegal to make music, or make a living, in Music City.”

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