A transforming economy, technological innovation and changes in the workplace have led to an explosion of home based businesses in Arizona. The growth in home based businesses (HBB) and telecommuting has been so pronounced that it is now estimated that 24% of workers are now doing a portion of their job at home.

However, due to an unresponsive and archaic regulatory system that has not responded to this changing work culture, many of these fledgling enterprises have been stifled or extinguished altogether.  In many jurisdictions, the patchwork of HBB regulations have created an inconsistent, arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive home-based business environment. For many of these businesses, compliance becomes a fight against City Hall that is a losing proposition for the politically unconnected.

Over the last several months, the Free Enterprise Club and the Goldwater Institute have unearthed several home-based business regulatory disasters.  These stories have illuminated the rampant over-regulation of the practice and the need for reform.

Many of these homeowners have agreed to share their stories in the hopes that what happened to them won’t occur to another unsuspecting HBB in Arizona.

Pinal County Regulations Sink Home Swim Lessons.

For over 10 years Suzy Irwin and her husband taught swim lessons to small children in San Tan Valley.  The Irwins live in a community in unincorporated Pinal County, where the proximity to services are few and the nearest swim school is a 30-minute drive away.  One summer day in 2013 the Irwins received a knock on her front door—it was a code compliance officer from the county.

After inquiring about the swimming lessons being taught at the Irwin’s home, the county employee informed Suzy’s husband Sean that they did not have the proper “home occupation license” and would need to cease operations immediately.

Suzy believed she had always followed the County’s regulations.  After all, the County told Suzy when she moved into the neighborhood in 2003 that there was no permit for home based businesses.  Additionally, County environmental services and local fire services provider did annual routine inspections of their pool and backyard.  For the past ten years Suzy was proactive in making sure public health and safety standards were met, her business was well insured, and she had all the latest certifications.  So of course, her first inclination was to simply come into compliance by filling out some paperwork, paying the $50 fee, and acquiring the necessary license.

If only it had been so easy.

Shortly after applying for the home occupation license, the county came back proclaiming she did not qualify for this type of license because she taught more than 5 children per day, and would instead need to file for a special use permit (SUP) for $500.  This came with an additional $200 “concept review” fee which included a meeting to determine her prospects for the permit ever being granted.

In Spring of 2014, Suzy drafted a lengthy narrative, drew a site plan, and filled out the rest of the application.  They were required to notify their neighbors located within 1,200 feet of their home and host them at a neighborhood meeting.  They were even required to install a bright yellow 4X8 sign (costing $850) in their front yard to provide notice of their upcoming planning & zoning hearing.

The Irwins received an outpouring of support from their neighbors – many of whom were customers and entrusted their own children’s safety to Suzy and her husband.  All who attended their neighborhood meeting signed a petition in support of them being allowed to continue their business.  Finally, after a lengthy process that already cost the Irwins nearly a year, their application was scheduled for a hearing at the County’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

On July 17, 2014 the Irwins went to their hearing, feeling confident that they would finally receive their approvals and be granted the Special Use Permit. That’s when it all came crashing down.

At the hearing, the County’s new in-house counsel, Mark Langlitz, blindsided county staff and the Irwin’s by informing the commissioners that he did not believe they qualified for a SUP at all. Additionally, Mr. Langlitz stated that the Irwin’s HBB activity was illegal and they were wrongfully using the SUP process as a vehicle for “spot zoning.”

The only path to compliance, according to Mr. Langlitz, would be an entirely different process – to rezone their home to commercial – which would never be allowed.  When pressed further on this opinion and why teaching swimming classes would not be allowed at the Irwin’s, the attorney defended his opinion by proclaiming that any for-profit business must be conducted at a commercially zoned property.

After hearing this dubious legal opinion from Mr. Langlitz, the commission voted 10-2 to refer the case to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation to deny their permit.

After an unpredictable roller coaster that cost them in time and money, the Irwin’s had no choice but to accept the verdict and move on. Suzy withdrew their application with the county, sidelining 35 years of combined experience in critical water safety training for children in the community.

Arizona is Ripe for Wide-Sweeping Home-Based Business Reform

Though most home-based businesses are small enterprises; in aggregate the thousands of home-based businesses make up roughly 50 percent of all Arizona small businesses.  We should have a regulatory culture that reflects both our value for their economic contributions as well as respect for their rights to earn an honest living for themselves and their families.

The Irwin’s story is indicative of an all-too-common challenge home-based businesses face.  It also demonstrates the urgency of greater reform.

Arizona has been a trailblazer in creating a regulatory environment primed for businesses to expand in the State; and as a result, businesses from California have flocked here.  Now is the time to send the same message to our home-grown entrepreneurs.