If you have a small-business idea, IJ has long fought for your right to put it into action without needless barriers. And all too often, those barriers are location-related. Zoning laws, in fact, create several related barriers to entry for entrepreneurs. In the most common instance, zoning laws prohibit otherwise legal businesses from opening—or staying open—in the proprietor’s desired location. Relatedly, an existing business might wish to provide an accompanying service or product, only to be told that the existing use classification does not allow that. And finally, some entrepreneurs have business ideas that are so innovative they simply cannot be forced into an existing zoning box—and therefore, in the eyes of many planners and bureaucrats, are simply illegal.

 All of these scenarios lead to headaches for entrepreneurs and hinder innovation—neither of which benefits consumers or the public. Indeed, nobody is served when government stands in the way of entrepreneurs who want to provide goods and services, on their property, peacefully and non-disruptively. For example, local governments have no interest in stopping entrepreneurs who want to operate businesses from their homes, as long as those businesses do not create a community nuisance or otherwise disrupt their neighbors’ ability to reasonably enjoy their properties. That is true even for uses that have historically been conducted in-home but, because of our zoning laws, have been exported to the community’s periphery or take a different shape than they used to.

That is not to suggest that every business is suitable for operation in a residential area. Some businesses do, in fact, create loud noises or generate fumes that might make their coexistence in a traditional neighborhood challenging. But that is hardly true of all businesses, most of which have an obvious incentive to be a good neighbor. And those businesses should be able to operate freely. But even that frequently does not happen, with local governments often cracking down on these uses—like auto repair shops—for trivial reasons like not having dozens of parking spaces, no longer fitting the desired character of the neighborhood, or even for selling your property and operating the business as a renter.

Leveraging zoning in this way crushes entrepreneurship and makes accessing goods and services less convenient or, at its worst, impossible. And it makes everyone worse off. IJ’s Zoning Justice Project aims to knock down these barriers to entrepreneurship by returning basic decision-making about sensible property use to entrepreneurs themselves.

Bianca King sued the city after officials shut down her home day care over complaints from golfers.

Small and Home-based Business Cases

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