ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public interest law firm, sent a letter to the city of Somerville, New Jersey, demanding officials stop using their home business and zoning laws to prevent a home baker from selling her homemade cookies.
Maria Winter recently decided she wanted to transform her passion for baking into a livelihood by selling homemade sweets out of her home. She proactively reached out to the city for permission to open her business and paid the $25 for a home business zoning permit.
Unfortunately, even though Maria did everything right on her end, Somerville denied her request. Instead, city officials told Maria she would need a full zoning hearing and would need to fork over thousands of dollars, just to get the ball rolling. Among the requirements, Maria must:
- Pay a $1,000 application fee,
- Pay a $4,000 escrow deposit to the city,
- Publish a notice in the Courier News that she is applying for a home business, and
- Notify all neighbors within 200 feet of her property that there will be a public hearing about her application.
“I’ve tried doing everything the right way, but Somerville’s rules have made it impossible,” Maria said. “I’m not looking to build a commercial kitchen or start a restaurant. I simply want to sell baked goods I make in my own, personal kitchen.”
Late last year, New Jersey became the last state to allow individuals to make a living by selling homemade baked goods out of their home. The victory came after years of litigation by IJ challenging the Garden State’s baked goods ban. Unfortunately, local municipalities such as Somerville still have overly restrictive laws in place that make it prohibitively difficult for home bakers to sell their goods.
“There is absolutely no reason somebody should have to pay thousands of dollars just to ask for permission to sell baked goods to their community,” said IJ Attorney Rob Peccola. “Somerville’s requirements are out of step with New Jersey state law and serve no rational purpose. They simply keep people like Maria from earning an honest living doing something that is common and legal across the state.”
IJ has challenged similar cottage food laws throughout the country, including successfully ending Wisconsin’s ban on selling home-baked goods and Minnesota’s restrictions on the right to sell home-baked and home-canned goods. IJ has also fought against restrictions on other at-home businesses, such as the ordinance in Lakeway, Texas, that is threatening to put an at-home day care provider out of business because of complaints from a former mayor that he can see toys in her yard from the local golf course.