More cities ease rules on home-based businesses

DEAR MR. MYERS: My wife and I own a four-bedroom home. We are semiretired accountants but use one of the bedrooms as a home office to prepare tax returns for some of our longtime clients. Though the clients rarely visit our home, because most of our work can be done over computers and phones, a cranky neighbor says that he’ll sue us and report us to local authorities if we don’t close down our home-based business because our neighborhood is zoned for residential purposes only. What can we do?

ANSWER: Don’t panic. Most cities and counties have loosened controls on home-based businesses in the past several years, provided that such businesses are “reasonable.” Your letter states that your clients rarely visit your home, so they’re probably not causing traffic or parking problems for your neighbors – arguably the No. 1 source of complaints against owners who run a business from their house.

Though most local governments have taken a more kindly attitude toward home-based businesses, there still are lots of no-nos that small entrepreneurs must avoid.

According to a representative for the federal Small Business Administration, most cities’ zoning laws continue to prohibit homeowners from making physical changes to their home in order to promote their business. Such changes range from adding a waiting room or showroom for clients to installing a permanent sign that advertises their services or products.

Not surprisingly, most local governments also won’t allow a home-based business that creates a bona fide public nuisance. That includes nasty odors, lots of noise or too much traffic. And, of course, virtually all ban a business that would require the use or storage of hazardous materials.

Though I don’t think that the tiny accounting firm that you and your spouse operate from your home violates local law, you should call or visit your area’s planning board or zoning board to get more information. If you’re still worried about keeping your home-based business after that conversation, contact a nearby attorney who specializes in zoning and planning issues to discuss your legal options.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: About 52 percent of all American businesses are currently based in a home, the Small Business Administration reports. That’s the way that the founders of Apple Inc., candymaker Hershey’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics and even Ford Motor Co. started out.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Our area was hit by a series of hellish thunderstorms a couple of weeks ago. Though our home wasn’t damaged, it got us wondering: Is damage caused by lightning covered by a typical homeowners insurance policy?

ANSWER: Yes. A standard homeowners policy, known as an “HO-3,” covers fires and most other perils that lightning can present. Some policies even provide coverage for damage caused by power surges that are the direct result of a lightning strike, said Loretta Worters, a vice president at the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute in New York.

DEAR MR. MYERS: What is a “blanket” mortgage?

ANSWER: It’s a loan that covers two or more pieces of property.

Though individual investors sometimes get a blanket mortgage, they’re more popular among big builders and developers. The loan allows a developer to purchase a large amount of land in one fell swoop, subdivide it, and then sell the subdivided parcels one at a time at a later date.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I saw a TV report that said the company that makes the Liquid-Plumr drain cleaner is recalling millions of bottles because they pose a health risk. We have three bottles in the cabinet under our sink. What’s the scoop?

ANSWER: Clorox Co., which manufactures the Liquid-Plumr line of clog-fighting cleaners, is recalling about 5.4 million bottles because they don’t have effective child-resistant caps. Kids who open the bottles can suffer chemical burns or irritation to their skin and eyes, a representative for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission said, and some of the bottles leak.

It’s important to note that the recall involves only three of the company’s various types of Liquid-Plumr products. The trio is composed of the Liquid-Plumr Pro-Strength Urgent Clear Clog Remover; Liquid-Plumr Pro-Strength Foaming Clog Fighter (previously marketed as Liquid-Plumr Slow Flow Fighter); and Liquid-Plumr Industrial Strength Urgent Clear Clog Remover.

The bottles were sold between January 2012 and May 2016 at thousands of stores across the U.S., as well as on popular websites that included Containers produced on or after March 22, 2016, are not affected by the recall.

If you have any of these bottles and also children in your home, put the containers in a place where the kids can’t reach them. Even better, put them under lock and key. Then contact Liquid-Plumr’s service center at 855-490-0705 or visit for refund information and instructions to safely dispose of the faulty bottles.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.