How to Bed and Breakfast: Permits

If it is your desire to start a B&B, and you are interested in modifying your home to suite this new use, this article will provide a synopsis of the zoning code and by-law process, from beginning to end, with some examples of the costs involved.

It is very difficult to dispense specific zoning advice without knowing location, municipality, special conditions, etc. The costs that I experienced in my permit process may not be representative of what they are for you. Definitions vary as well; until recently there were many municipalities which had no formal definition of a B&B.

• Permits for the Use of Land
In the good old days, starting any kind of business amounted to painting a sign and putting it on the front lawn. It is certainly not so today, as the “use of land” has become a finely tuned municipal tool, and your plans will need to be textually and graphically detailed and precise. There may be Justification Reports to submit, in which you work through a checklist of potential conflicts with your neighbours, natural drainage features, and the like. If you happen to reside on lands which have been designated environmentally sensitive, it is possible you’ll need an “Environmental Impact” report. The first time I went through this bureaucracy was very intimidating. If you need help, ask your lawyer to recommend a planning consultant.
How long all this takes is once again a function of your local government.  In my municipality in Ontario, Canada I was charged $700 to pass a bylaw permitting a B&B in a General Rural Zone, and I waited 4 months to receive formal approval.

• Internet Searches
Why not examine what your local government does to regulate the use of land. This is something you need to do for yourself on the internet. I found a few examples across the USA: for Oklahoma City Oklahoma; for Toledo, Ohio; for Wilmington, North Carolina.
If you live in one of the above cities, check it out. Otherwise, go to your municipal website and access this information; it is usually posted for all ratepayers to utilize.

• Restrictions
There is a broad class of uses which fall under the definition “home occupations” and bed and breakfast zoning is often similar. Restrictions such as the following may be imposed by your township:
• Limits on sign size, location and display (lighting, position, etc.) Often the maximum sign size is really small; I saw a limit of 32 square inches in a US municipality!
• You will need to provide parking above and beyond what is already in place for your home, unless your lot is already oversized. Road parking doesn’t count.
• The feel or flavour of your home cannot look overly commercial.
• The new use must not exceed a specified percentage of your home’s total area. B&B’s are usually cut a break on this one as kitchen, living room, games room etc. areas are not counted, as they are used by the host as well.
• A maximum number of rentable rooms; usually it is 3 or so; above this point other zonings kick in.
• Your municipality may wish to regulate the density of B&B’s in your neighbourhood.
• You may not be able to serve lunch or supper to your guests.
• There may be time limits on rental of rooms
Unfortunately, there are items in the list above which might kill your plan in its infancy. If your municipality has decided on a maximum of one B&B per square block, there’s not a lot you can do if your neighbour is already in the business.
The next article in this series, How to Bed and Breakfast: Other Permits we shall peruse more regulatory heartache.