Home Occupancy Permits: Legality of piano lessons in private home

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I am a established professional piano teacher with 55 students a week, I rent my own studio downtown and have stopped teaching from my home. A friend and fellow music educator recently has applied for a home occupancy permit with the county government because a neighbor complained about traffic coming and going. The county is requiring this music educator to provide parking spots as well as abide by certain codes for the home itself before issuing an occupancy permit. I never had a permit when I taught from home. I guess I was in violation then and was wondering how other piano teachers deal with this. Do the legalities and liability of teaching at home go unoticed by piano teachers until they "get busted" in some way? Along the same lines do piano teachers need to secure business licenses to legally operate?

-- Kyle Johnson (keyboardkyle@yahoo.com), March 08, 2005


Well, usually people (in many home businesses, not just piano teachers) think if they work at home, it is not a "real" business because it is not a separate office. They don't pay taxes, including self-employment taxes, and often don't get permits, licenses, insurance, etc. It can all come back to hurt you--someone trips coming up the steps for a lesson, and sues--regular homeowners insurance won't cover it because they had come to see you for business purposes. If you're not a legal business, you can't claim deductions to offset your income either.

Often, the county government's zoning enforcement is complaint-driven. The neighbor, in this case might have been complaining that parking was being taken in front of their house all the time. Because you have drive-in business, you can't avoid this happening at some point, unless you have really understanding neighbors.

Believe me, it is annoying. You get really tired of parking your own vehicles in the street so that your driveway is clear for guests and repair people. Imho, it is just common sense and courtesy to have adequate parking for the number of people likely to be at your house at any one time, which might be a minimum of 3 separate spaces (one for people coming, one for people going, and an extra).

They may have thought illegal activity was going on--if you didn't know, what would you think was going on with people coming and going every half hour or so? Did the neighbor try asking the teacher what was going on first? It could also be that the neighbor worked nights and the extra noise disturbed them. Try sleeping days sometime and you might feel the same way--I used to work nights myself.

One option is that your friend could move out to a more rural area, where the more common "hear it, see it, smell it" rules apply, and because he'd be the only worker, he wouldn't necessarily need a permit, but that varies by county. Yes, you'd still want to get a business license and do all the right stuff taxwise, but usually they are a lot more lenient about traffic, especially if you're extra nice to your immediate neighbors--as in send them a gift basket, for example, or offer them a discount on lessons, every year, etc. If you have enough land around you, neighbors don't even notice. I would imagine that your average "soccer mom" generates around the same amount of traffic.

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), March 08, 2005.

When I was at the MTNA Convention in 2003 there was a presenter that gave her personal experience with neighbors and them trying to actually keep her out of the community that she moved in to. Her name is Kelly Setler Scheer. I do not have her contact info. But she was affliated with the Westminister Choir College of Rider University.

This was one of the best presentations I've seen. Some of the things she discussed were almost unbelievable. She contacted the MTNA and they helped her when she had to go up against the home society and city board. She said to contact the MTNA and your local state chapter immediately. Contact her to get more information.


-- Diana (dstocksd@sbcglobal.net), March 09, 2005.

Well, hopefully your friend can get the permit and not have to spend too much money. But he/she should also remember that the same laws will be used to allow a daycare next door (which is a traffic nightmare certain hours of the day), or something else. They have as much right to make a legal living as anyone else. What Diana mentioned sounds a lot like people who are afraid that if your friend is allowed to conduct business at home, then there will be a torrent of people demanding to do the same thing, and there goes the neighborhood, which suddenly may turn into a business district.

If the neighbors all work outside the home during a businesses normal hours, most won't care, because it doesn't really affect them. But if you have day sleepers, or people who moved into a "quiet" neighborhood and expect it to stay that way, yes, it is an issue. There's a big difference between someone working on "the great American novel" at home, with no noise or visitors or working from home for the convenience of their employer, and a daycare, or a backyard dog breeder, hairdresser, or a piano teacher.

Two ways to not have this issue, although costs will go up in other ways, notably gas and car insurance, is for the teacher to go to the home of the students, or do as you did and rent studio space. Could you go into partnership with this person and rent (or even buy) a building together?

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), March 09, 2005.

No, this (guitar) teacher has no intention of moving, but had asked me to "get on that bulletin board and see what piano teachers do" she thought that maybe there was a law she didn't know about that covered things like home business or the rights of property owners. Apparently she is going to have to get her home up to code to meet the conditions of the county. It seems that a small number of students is OK, but teachers who have substantial traffic are risking their location if they do not secure proper permits first. As far as not paying taxes that's a no-brainer...who would try that? I have to pay quarterly and assume everyone else does too. I used to teach itinerant lessons but it's much better if my students come to me! Thanks for everyone's input, I'll pass this on to my friend. KJ

-- Kyle Johnson (keyboardkyle@yahoo.com), March 09, 2005.

Sorry if I inadvertently offended you! Did not mean to do that at all.

I mentioned taxes because a neighbor might have called just to be sure they were a legal (as in had the permit) business too. Some people clean other people's houses for a living, and do it all under the table. Same with babysitters/daycare. It doesn't seem to be a problem until their employer is up for public office (i.e. nannygate), LOL, or the person suddenly decides they're entitled to social security (never mind that they didn't pay in their share all these years), or they get injured on the job.

One thing that might help your friend is if she had been doing this before the neighbor moved in. Is it only the one neighbor complaining, or everyone? It sounds like just the one neighbor.

I live in a rural area now, but when I lived in the suburbs, you'd go for a walk in the evening, and every time you'd pass certain houses, their dog would start barking, even though you were on the public sidewalk, and the same situation would exist with strange people constantly driving into the neighbor's driveway, I would imagine, and that sort of thing is much more aggravating in the suburbs or the city because of the close quarters. Yes, dogs bark at everything, wherever they live but it's different when you have some acreage and perhaps even farm animals between you and the nearest neighbor.

Not that you don't have problems even in rural areas. You can often find people who do the "complaint" thing because they are a competitor of the business in question. For example, people who rent commercial space in town because they have no space at home to park their big rigs or other heavy equipment, might call and "complain" about someone on acreage who runs the same type of business, even if the immediate neighbors have no problem with it. Now, if the immediate neighbors had problems, that's different, and that sort of thing is exactly what neighborhood mediation is for.

Would staggering the lessons (changing times) help? Or having longer lessons (1-1 1/2 hours every 2 weeks)? Or raising prices and cutting the student load that way? I suppose one clue to the neighbor is that people bring their own instruments, what if the instructor had one classroom instrument for the student to use during the lesson (like you do with pianos), how would the neighbor know it's business rather than a visit from a friend? Are they going to tell her she can't have friends now?

I know this is hard for most people to think of, but neighborhoods are planned with only a certain amount of traffic flow and load in mind. The extra fees for the permitting pay for that stuff, among other things. Although, someday maybe it will be feasible to teach live on line with your webcam on the computer, at least for some portion of your lessons, and there goes your traffic issue.

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), March 09, 2005.

GT No offense taken, you are quite right. There are some unscrupulous folks (including piano teachers) out there making $$ from home and not reporting it as well as not having insurance, etc.. I don't think my friend is doing this, the complaining neighbor is a developer who wanted to do some re-zoning and was denied. During the public comment process, my friend spoke out against the developer's proposal. Now he's filing complaints against her. Strange world. It just helps to learn from other's mistakes/misfortunes. If there are other piano teachers who are unaware of the legalities of teaching at home, perhaps this post will provide an incentive for them to be proactive in making sure they don't set themselves up for conflicts with neighbors, local government, or the IRS. KJ

-- Kyle Johnson (keyboardkyle@yahoo.com), March 09, 2005.

Even if you had 100 students a week who cares- it is'nt like they are all there at one time are they? No. It's one person at a time, at most 2 or 3. If you had have an "occupancy" permit everytime someone comes to your house for something no one would ever have a party or company over or teach music because you'd have to have "permission" from a permit to do it. I can see it now "sorry, we can't have dinner here with you I don't have a permit for occupancy". This is just someone complaining to complain and who is obviously a bitter busy body with nothing better to do. I've had nasty neighbors like this before and believe me the city gets sick of dealing with them on every thing. The final end in my case was people next door got evicted (they rented) and the people across the street had the mayor come down and tell them if they don't like it then suck it up and get over it or move. Eventually the city will realize they are just whining to whine as an attempt to control everything that goes on and when they can't they will either move or give up. Unfortunately it is the people in the middle, like the teacher in this case, that suffer until that time comes.

-- kelly (noemail@forgetit.com), March 13, 2005.

Well, the difference (having a regular party--vs. teaching) is complying with a normal residential use of a home, as oppposed to conducting business from home and making money. Some businesses have been "grandfathered" in as "normal" residential uses of a home by the state--kiddie and eldercare of usually 6 people (plus staff) or fewer. You aren't even notified as neighbors of these type of businesses unless they want to have more than that number.

Teaching music is a grey area--a few students, no one minds--a 9-5 day of people coming and going, yes, I think most people would mind, especially if they live within the normal 300-500 feet on all sides of the home business in question, AND they are home all day (as in stay-at-home parents, daysleepers, etc). (I assume this is the normal suburb area with postage stamp city lots.) It is disruptive in that, these days you really do need to get up and check every time you see/hear a strange car in the neighborhood--and it gets old really fast!

Who has more right to a peaceful and quiet neighborhood? Who was there first? Whose business was there first? How is disclosing the home businesses nearby going to affect the sale of your home in future? People doing network marketing tend to have lots of parties, sometimes with inconsiderate types who block driveways.

I sympathize with Kyle's friend. It sounds like a spite thing on the part of the neighbor, and the zoning people may see that, but the law is the law. It all just depends on the makeup of the zoning commission as to whose side it will take--some cities are so pro- developer, it isn't even funny.

-- GT (nospam@nospam.com), March 14, 2005.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ