For many start-ups and small businesses, other than the operational cost, the real estate cost proves to be a major impediment in the intended growth. Thus, a number of small businesses are often run from residential areas. Consultants, advocates, doctors, etc., run their work from their homes. While converting a house premise into an office can help one to save on real estate cost, there are other permissions and expenses that one incurs while doing so.
What does ‘commercial’ mean?
Legally, consultants, advocates and doctors can run their business from their house.
In a case filed under the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961, the court had clarified that home offices run by chartered accountants, lawyers and doctors, will not be considered as a commercial activity as the work involves intellectual exercise and not physical labour. Running yoga classes or tuition classes from home, will also not be counted as a commercial activity, because the services rendered by the said professionals will not be categorised under sale and purchase of goods.
However, there is a difference between running an office from your residential premise and running a commercial business from your home. “The said practice of running an office from a residential apartment is widely accepted in different parts of the country. In Mumbai, an area of 220 sq ft in a residential apartment can be used for commercial activities. This set-up has also become popular in Delhi, owing to the increase in practice of ‘intellectual’ professions – for example, doctors, lawyers, tuition centres, etc.,” explains Ekank Mehra, a New Delhi-based lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court.
If you are in any profession, other than the ones mentioned above, you can still run your office, adds Mehra. “However, when there is a movement of goods from the residential premise, or if the premise is being used as a godown, the activity turns into a commercial one. This would require approvals/ licences from local municipal offices and other related authorities, such as the fire department and the local police station,” he elaborates.
How can you convert your home into an office?
You need to first inform your residents’ welfare association (RWA). This is a must if the business involves movement of goods and storage. In case you are put up in a rented accommodation, you will need to seek permission from your landlord in addition to the RWA.
While working from your own office is more cost-effective, the work may happen at a relaxed pace. On the flipside, a house address may not be very convenient for a client meeting. Other disadvantages of having an office in a residential premises, may include the absence of outlets that serve food, sitting area, and other basic infrastructure. “Issues with vehicular movement and parking may also pose hurdles,” points out Manisha Singh, an independent Delhi-based company secretary, who started a small consulting business around three years ago. Singh took written permissions from the RWA, to open her office at home and for an extra designated parking.
Any change of address at a later stage, may also involve documentary and regulatory procedures.
Moreover, in case the activity is deemed commercial, your house will incur a property tax applicable on commercial properties. Even the water and electricity charges will be levied on the basis of a commercial property.
There may also be associated renovation costs that you will incur, to give your house an office environment.