Downsizing in retirement, my own observations: Part 2: home-based business issues

One of the concerns I had prospectively and when in “preview mode” about selling the estate house and specifically buying a condo, was the issue of running what is legally viewed as a home-based business in the condo.

In the house, I had a normal county business license typical for “writers” and a sales tax license from Virginia, so that I could legally sell copies of the four books I have authored. While most sales are from Amazon, my cooperative publisher expects me to be open to buying copies of books and either wholesaling them to bookstores (especially independent) or retailing them directly to consumers.  That s why I have a payment portal, however used, on another blog, with SSL encryption.

The business licenses and sales tax licenses required the connection of my residence address with the county and state (even a UPS store would not do;  it had to be a location where business really could be conducted, either an office or a home). Before closing on the sale of the house, then, I had to cancel these licenses so that the old address was no longer attached to the house I would sell in any public record. Actually, I found no evidence that title companies or buyers try to check for this.  However, as a I.T. person familiar with relational databases (SQL) and “direct connect” or replication processing, it’s all to easy for me to imagine how this could start.

The same question will come up in my new location, for me to resume the capacity to “sell”.  Generally, condo associations have rules that can restrict home based businesses.  High-rise condos (and probably coops) may tend to be stricter than townhome developments, and may well have rules stricter than the local county or city.  But homeowners associations sometimes restrict businesses in gated communities even where the land is individually owned.  I covered this problem in August in some detail on this set of legacy posts.  But generally, most of them are concerned mainly with businesses that cause consumers regularly to come to the property, or which require physical changes to the property or signage on the property.

It is common for condo by-laws to state that units are for residential use only. Sometimes they forbid “vocational” or “professional” use, or “exploratory”, which I am told means that the owner doesn’t live in the unit but uses it only for business.  Some have clauses banning non-profits, fund-raising organizations (like for political candidates) and religious organizations from operating from residential units (and some suburban cities have townhome developments set aside by zoning specifically for these purposes).  Generally, they don’t have a problem with a writer or blogger simply using the Internet from the unit, as long as everything is lawful (although I would wonder if the blogger was involved in extremist activities).  I would presume that in most cases telecommuting to work would be all right, as would home-based customer service jobs that require only a normal PC and stable Internet connection.

Condos vary on their policy on short-term rentals like Airbnb.  Generally, large suburban complexes will ban hotel-type renting;  but expensive condos in trendy areas of large cities are often built with the idea that such rental use is allowed and even encouraged;  these units are popular with some celebrities. It can be difficult to “catch” an owner violating a ban, but recently some condos have begun using automated tools to scan the Web for violations.

Still, it may be worth looking in to finding an expensive “office” in a small town as an official business address, and possibly try to do so in combination with other authors or small business owners.  It wouldn’t be necessary to go there often.

Another possibility is to conduct business at events in other cities, as with my recent trip to the Miami Book Fair.

In my “previews” I did talk to one rental agent for a typical high-rise apartment (rental only, not ownership). They did not have objection to “quiet” home based businesses that are otherwise legal in the county or city. However, I can imagine circumstances where a controversial tenant is forced to leave if he or she is perceived as attracting danger to others in the unit, but I have not heard of any specific cases of this.

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at 11:45 PM EST)

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