Lawsuit filed against Nashville law restricting home-based businesses

A team of attorneys is challenging a Metro Nashville law that prohibits residents from operating certain businesses in their homes, reports WPLN. The new lawsuit was filed on behalf of two people who say their home businesses were hurt after the city received anonymous complaints.

The claimants and their attorneys are concerned that under the current home business ban, anyone with a personal vendetta or competing business can wield the Metro Code Department’s anonymous reporting system like a weapon.  Technically illegal businesses like Lij Shaw’s home recording studio are easy targets.

“To be completely shut down by the city and have to move and come up with some whole new plan at a point in my life when I need to be more settled in would be devastating for me,” says Shaw.

One of the two claimants in the lawsuit, Shaw says an anonymous complaint filed with the city brought Codes agents to his doorstep, who told him he could no longer publish his address in advertisements. Shaw, who has lived in East Nashville for the last 17 years, doesn’t know who reported him.

“It’s filed through a website,” says Shaw. “I have no idea who filed the complaint. In fact, I have never had a complaint from any of my neighbors about anything with my home studio.”

… The Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit along with the Beacon Center on Tuesday, says around 1,600 home businesses in Nashville are operating in spite of the law.

Press release from Beacon Center of Tennessee:

NASHVILLE –  Today, the Beacon Center teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit on behalf of Nashville residents Lij Shaw and Pat Raynor against the Metro Council’s ban on business owners receiving clients in their homes.

A 1998 ordinance prohibits any so-called “home occupations” from serving clients on their property. The law, which the Nashville Metro Council passed without public debate or any record of why it exists, imposes steep fines and potential imprisonment on local musicians, hairstylists, interior designers and other aspiring entrepreneurs if any customers physically come to their homes to do business.

“Home-based businesses have been a common, legitimate and entrepreneurial use of property for centuries,” said Keith Diggs, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents the plaintiffs. “They cost less to start up, they promote better work-life balance, and they create jobs that otherwise might not exist. The Metro Council’s home-business ban needlessly hurts people, like Lij and Pat, who are just trying to earn an honest living.”

Beacon Center Litigation Director Braden Boucek noted, “This unnecessary and unconstitutional home-based business ban hurts honest and hardworking entrepreneurs in Nashville. Lij and Pat have been productive, taxpaying citizens that are being punished for showing initiative and offering services that help other people. Home-based businesses offer people an accessible path to entrepreneurship. It shouldn’t be illegal to make music or make a living in Music City.”

Lij, a single father, invested thousands of dollars to convert his detached garage into a professional recording studio. Lij, who has lived in East Nashville for 17 years, has recorded nationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning performers such as John Oates, Tori Amos, Wilco and the Zac Brown Band. Pat Raynor, a semi-retired widow, undertook an expensive renovation to her garage to open up a one-chair hair salon with a valid Tennessee cosmetology license.

Unfortunately, the Nashville codes department moved to shut them both down. Lij’s recording studio has lost significant revenue since a city officer ordered him to stop publishing his address in advertisements. Meanwhile, Pat has been forced to rent a costly and inconvenient commercial studio just to keep her hairstyling practice in business and support herself.

“I’m a musician. Part of what I love about Nashville is my ability to make a living and support my family doing something I love,” said Shaw. “My home studio allows me to spend quality time with my daughter while keeping a roof over our heads. A man’s home is his castle, and I should have the right to earn a living in mine.”

The Institute for Justice analyzed Nashville’s business records and found at least 1,600 home-based businesses operating within the limits of Nashville’s consolidated city-county jurisdiction. Unfortunately, many of them are illegal, and the ban can be as disastrous as a lightning strike for the unlucky few who get caught. Nashville’s own planning commissioners have said this law is against the American way, and the top councilwoman for zoning has called it “dishonest.” Even the law’s defenders, like former Councilman Carter Todd, have boasted that Nashville’s thriving illicit home business scene doesn’t “bother anybody” while ironically working to keep it illegal.

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