Your hobby might be a ‘business’ and subject to zoning rules

Many cities and towns have zoning rules that limit people’s ability to operate a business on their property. But sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a homeowner’s activity is a business or a hobby. If there’s any doubt, you might want to talk with an attorney.

For instance, a New Jersey woman had a four-acre home on which she bred German Shepherd show dogs. She obtained a permit to build a storage building on her property. She used the building to house dogs, and she built dog runs outside it.

The woman bred 10 to 12 dogs a year. She kept some as show dogs, and she sold the rest.

The town cited her for violating a zoning ordinance that prohibited her from operating a commercial dog kennel.

The woman argued that she wasn’t in business. She said she raised the dogs as a hobby, and while she did sell a few of the dogs, she never made a profit on the operation. She noted that she had a separate full-time job, that she raised the dogs entirely by herself and never hired anyone to help, and that she didn’t advertise the dogs for sale.

The case went to court, and the woman lost. The court said the woman may have thought of what she did as a hobby, but her dog-raising operation was more than just an incidental use of her property and was indistinguishable from a commercial kennel.

Although the woman never turned a profit, the court said this didn’t make a difference because many commercial businesses operate for years without turning a profit.


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