January 31, 2018

Nashville, Tennessee, is the center of country music. Yet, incredibly the city bans musicians from making music in their own homes. Nashville has outlawed home-based businesses, preventing local musicians, hair stylists and other budding entrepreneurs from building their own American Dream. Nashville residents like IJ clients Lij Shaw and Pat Raynor face steep fines if any customers physically come to their homes to do business. But IJ and the Beacon Center of Tennessee have teamed up to challenge this ridiculous law in state court.

Nashville banned home-based businesses in 1998, when the Metro Council changed its residential zoning ordinance to prohibit any “home occupations” from serving clients on their own property. Of course, the law—passed without any public debate or record of why it exists—exempts some home-based businesses such as daycares and short-term rentals. And while local lawmakers admit they generally look the other way on known home-based businesses, Nashville still solicits anonymous online complaints about them without requiring any evidence of harm to anyone.

Home-based businesses have been a common, legitimate and entrepreneurial use of property for centuries. Some of the biggest companies in the world, like Apple and Amazon, started at home. Yet Nashville continues to crack down on people like Lij and Pat, who both ran successful home-based businesses until they were caught in Nashville’s arbitrarily applied enforcement net.

Some of the biggest companies in the world, like Apple and Amazon, started at home.

Lij is a single father who operates a professionally soundproofed recording studio in his home. He records and mixes music for local musicians because most of them cannot afford to do so in commercial studios. It is the perfect setup: The studio cannot be seen or heard from the street, and Lij’s clients park in his driveway. None of his neighbors have ever complained to him about traffic or noise. But Lij was shut down based on an anonymous complaint around the same time that an album mixed in his studio won the 2015 Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album.

Pat is a widow who has worked as a hairdresser for more than 40 years. Pat cannot stop working because she had significant bills and was responsible for continuing to pay her mortgage after her husband died. But as she gets older, she needs to reduce the hours she works, making it financially impossible to rent salon space. She built, at significant expense, a state-licensed single-chair home salon so she could afford to stay in her house and continue to work with her few clients into her golden years. Pat only works by appointment and did not put a sign out front, so she never got curious walk-ins the way a downtown salon might. But, based on another anonymous complaint, she had to shut down.

Lij‘s and Pat’s outlawed home-based businesses are as neighborhood-friendly as the businesses Nashville already permits. There is no good reason for Nashville to shut them down. As you will read in the sidebar next to this article, a new IJ report has found that home-based businesses are an easy way for people who are unable to work outside the home to earn an honest living. Yet laws like Nashville’s unnecessarily shut these businesses down or force them into the shadow economy.

You have a constitutional right to use your home to earn an honest living, and we will not stop fighting until Pat, Lij and all entrepreneurs like them are free to do just that.


Finding the American Dream at Home

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