Counseling Business in a Residence

by Vicki
(Los Gatos, CA)

Visitor Question: My neighborhood is zoned R1-8. A neighbor moved in across the street and is conducting counseling (individual and group) out of the home.

Do the neighbor need a conditional use permit?

Editors Reply: In most cities a psychologist or social worker working from home would be considered a home occupation. Sometimes the zoning ordinance lists a category called something like professional services, with counseling serving as one of the examples.

Sometimes home occupations, as defined in the zoning ordinance, are just permitted uses. In other places, the city may require a permit, but it is not a conditional use as such. This may be an administrative action, with no public hearings required.

In still other instances, a conditional use would be required. Most typically, a conditional use would need to go through a full zoning hearing, although more and more often, conditional use permits are granted administratively after a hearing officer gathers information from the applicant.

As the name implies, a "conditional use" permit means that the city can attach conditions to the approval. The permit then is valid only as long as those conditions are met.

In your case, that might mean that the use would be permitted only as long as there were no more than four clients seen at once. Since you mention that there are group counseling sessions across the street from you, you should be aware that perhaps the number of participants can be or already has been limited by your municipality.

There is no substitute for finding out exactly what the rules are. Call your city hall and explain the nature of the business being conducted across the street, then ask what permits and approvals would be required.

If you find that the neighbor should have a particular type of permit and has not complied, do feel free to complain loudly and often. That isn't fair to those who do play by the rules.

In many cases you can be anonymous in your complaint if you wish, so don't be too quick to give your name until you find out if that is required in order to have the matter investigated.

Our opinion is that regular group counseling is a bit too much for a residential neighborhood.

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