Leasing & Occupancy Liability

Mind Your Own *Home-Based* Business

Back in the day, the workforce left their home in the morning, went to a place of employment for 8 or so hours and then went to their home. Think of Ward Cleaver, the patriarch of the Cleaver family in Leave it to Beaver. Wikipedia defines his occupation simply as “white collar worker.” An accountant? A stockbroker? Apparently, that was not important enough to be defined in the series. What you did know was that every morning, Ward Cleaver donned a suit and tie, picked up his briefcase, kissed his wife and kids good-bye and disappeared to somewhere to do his undefined job.

Fast forward to today. Even if you have a physical office to which you must report at some point in time, one of the most popular benefits being offered today is the ability to telework. In many jobs, it is expected that you may be able to work from home for at least part of the time. In our increasingly online world, there is a significant portion of the workforce that literally never has to go to an office.

Most governing documents for condos, HOA or PUDs include some language restricting the use of residential units. In general, you will see a section or clause preventing the operating of a business from within a residential unit. In more modern documents, you may see a recognition of a home-based business, but that will usually carry a caveat that the business cannot affect your neighbors and may go so far as to limit the type of business that can be housed in a residential unit.

So, what happens when your home-based business does not stay at home? Let’s say that your direct-sale handbag endeavor has become very successful. Once a week, you’re taking delivery of 15-20 boxes from UPS. Then a couple days later, you’re leaving the same number of boxes out to be picked up for delivery to your clients. But your small condo does not have staff and has a limited area for packages. You’re leaving your packages out in the mail area, but your neighbors have to navigate their way around the packages to get to their normal daily mail delivery.

In researching this article, we spoke to one manager who had a total of three prostitution rings busted in his or her suburban condominium complex. Another manager has a dominatrix advertising online and operating out of her unit in a small downtown condominium. Complete with pictures that feature common areas as backgrounds. A manager reported commercial cooking in her building that was leading to massive plumbing issues in the common areas. And another who was hosting multiple pets through an online service for short periods of time.

But where do you draw the line? I think we can all agree that a daycare is a business. But what about a nanny share in which two families share a nanny in one family’s space? Someone is making some money in that situation, trading the location for the service. Is that different from pet-sitting? At the end of the day, what you have to guard against is your business infringing upon your neighbor’s right to quiet enjoyment. Even if your governing documents do not specifically address businesses within your association, nearly all associations have a nuisance clause.

If your neighbor’s business is causing a nuisance to you, be it through noise, foot traffic, plumbing problems, etc. then you most likely have grounds to file a complaint. If you’re comfortable with it, maybe bring your concerns to your neighbor’s attention. They may not be aware that their packages are causing a problem, or that you can hear the multiple dogs they’re bringing into their unit. If not, you’ll need to consult your governing documents about how to file a formal complaint to the board for relief.

By Mira Brown, AMS

Mira Brown is a Senior Property Manager and Team Leader with EJF Real Estate. In addition to the management of a portfolio of properties in Washington, DC she also serves in supervisory functions and capacities at EJF. She has been a CAI member for over 15 years and has been an active member of the Quorum Editorial Committee for over 5 years.

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