July 14, 2020
By Christina Sandefur

Thanks to the work of our friends at the Beacon Center of Tennessee and the Institute for Justice, the American Dream is alive and well in Nashville—as local government is getting out of the way of entrepreneurs running businesses from their homes.

Until last week, Music City outlawed most types of home-based businesses—even if those businesses followed applicable health and safety standards and operated without disturbing their neighbors. That’s unreasonable during normal times, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to earn a living from home is even more critical.

Lij Shaw, who owns a soundproof home recording studio, and Pat Raynor, a hairstylist who renovated her home to open a salon, are two Nashville residents who have spent years battling city officials in court. Nashville officials shuttered both of their businesses—despite the fact that neither violated any traffic, noise, or health and safety standards—simply because they operated out of a home.

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t unique to Nashville. In every state, cities apply outmoded zoning, licensing, and permitting requirements to impede or thwart people’s ability to work from home. Many of these drag would-be home-based business owners through expensive, tedious, and often futile permitting processes that do nothing to protect neighborhoods. Others impose irrational rules, such as telling homeowners which rooms they can work in, prohibiting people from selling goods from their homes (even if those sales only occur online), and even barring home-based businesses from employing off-site nonresidents. Some cities even make operating a home-based business a crime.

Fortunately, Nashvillians can get back to work now that the Metro Nashville Council voted to lift the ban on home-based businesses. People who work from home will still have to obey nuisance, parking, and sign ordinances so that they don’t disturb their neighbors or alter the residential character of their neighborhoods. But home-based business owners will no longer be subject to unfair and arbitrary rules that needlessly stopped them from earning an honest living.

But what about the barbers, violin teachers, tutors, yoga instructors, accountants, and lawyers in places like California, Iowa, Virginia, and Massachusetts, whose cities stand in the way of their economic opportunity? It shouldn’t take an army of lawyers or lobbyists to beg cities for the permission to work from home.

Fortunately, there’s a way for state legislators to address this problem in one fell swoop—by enacting the Home-Based Business Fairness Act. Designed by the Goldwater Institute, the Act protects people’s right to work from home so long as they aren’t harming their neighbors or disrupting the residential area. And it forces cities to focus on keeping communities safe by policing actual nuisances rather than punishing people who happen to run a business from their living room instead of from an office.

As legislators look for ways to get Americans back to work in the wake of COVID-19, they should turn to simple, commonsense solutions like the Home-Based Business Fairness Act, which empowers individuals to earn an honest living without costing taxpayers a dime.

Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President at the Goldwater Institute.

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