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Home businesses can be problematic

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Some commercial ventures are ideally suited to operating from residential areas, but check the by-laws first

Working from home is a growing trend that is not only seeing fewer people taking on the daily commute, but also more commercial enterprises operating in and from residential areas.

For most, it is an economic decision, says Wakefields Real Estate chief executive Myles Wakefield.

“When you’re a one-person business, particularly during financially stressed times, it’s hard to justify an office rental, and the commute. You sacrifice the social aspect for the financial expediency.”

Some businesses, however, are suited to operating from residential areas or premises while others may need permission to operate or apply for a property to be rezoned.

Every municipality has clear by-laws governing commercial businesses in residential areas, from special consent applications for one or two-people businesses to complete rezoning, but Wakefield says the impact that business will have on the surrounding residents and homes is at the heart of all considerations. 

Although neighbours will be invited to consent or appeal, one-person businesses that make no noise and do not attract increased foot or vehicular traffic are “unlikely to have issues”. “Tax consultants, bookkeepers, freelance graphic designers, on-line businesses and many others have no more impact than if there was no business there at all.”

There are, however, by-laws around food, for example, so such businesses will also need to fulfil unique legal requirements. In addition to municipal consent, Wakefield says business owners operating in sectional title properties will need approval from their body corporates.

Conflict between residents and business owners can arise in those areas that have both strong residential and commercial components. Picture: Supplied

The mix of commercial and residential has become such a popular property trend that some areas and properties in Durban have been rezoned. “There are areas such as Florida Road in Morningside, which has an increasingly strong commercial component, where listed residential and other homes have been rezoned to accommodate restaurants and bars which operate late at night and over weekends,” he says.

“When there are roads where many residential homes have been rezoned for business – Problem Mkhize and Lilian Ngoyi on the Berea are good examples – a precedent has been set, so applications for rezoning are more likely to be approved.”

In areas that have both strong residential and commercial components it can, however, become an “interesting play-off point” or create conflict between residents and business owners, says Brett Leon of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Restaurants have liquor licences and want to maximise their return on these, so they may trade late at night and play music, which will cause conflict with residents who don’t want late-night disruptions. When holiday seasons are at their peak and client traffic increases, this causes additional issues with nearby residential tenants.”

Similarly, businesses with a high staff complement or a manufacturing element – where noise and a higher volume of customer interaction is seen – could cause residents to feel intruded upon, he says.

Office-type trades are generally more acceptable in a residential area than a showroom or retail environment, unless the property is correctly zoned, as customers visiting home-based businesses are bound to disrupt neighbouring residents.

There are also retailers who have websites and no showrooms who can work from home without any fuss, says Selwyn Sharon, a commercial broker for Pam Golding Properties.

“It may be possible for a doctor or vet to operate alone, but if patients cause disruption, use up all the street parking, and ensuing traffic poses a potential danger to children, for example, then a departure will be required.”

When it comes to buying a property, Wakefield says prospective owners are often unsure of the status of the residential property they are buying.

“Special consent granted to one business in a residential area does not pass on to another owner, nor does it mean that property has been rezoned commercial or that an application for such is guaranteed to be granted. The onus is on the prospective buyer to investigate thoroughly at the local municipality.”


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