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Starting a business without commercial space

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    Starting a business without commercial space

    Securing commercial space is generally a prerequisite to operating a business. Zoning laws typically restrict setting up a commercial entity outside of a commercially zoned space. But the start-up costs involved with leasing commercial space can often function as an obstacle to getting started.

    Depending on where you plan to operate, there are several solutions to operating a business without leasing commercial space.  Whether you’re looking to start a fitness class for members of your community, sell baked goods and handmade jewelry, or offer personal care services, different cities and municipalities offer a variety of ways to operate these ventures from a public or residential space.  

    Utilizing public parks and city streets for commercial purposes

    Many cities are experimenting with new types of business permits as a response to the pandemic and the forced shift to increased outdoor activities. The permits specifically enable businesses, offering both products and services, to operate in parks and city avenues. 

    Offering your services in public spaces

    Toronto, for example, kickstarted an initiative named ParkFitTO. The city is accepting permit requests to operate commercially in parks from June 14th, 2021 to October 3rd, 2021. Businesses that want to facilitate outdoor fitness classes, such as yoga or martial arts, can usually do so in city parks. This summer, factoring for the impact of the pandemic, Toronto is offering these permits free of charge. Note, however, that special event permits are required for operations serving food, alcohol, or emitting excessive of sound. Cities such as Vaughan or Barrie offer similar permits, albeit with different prices and event policies.

    starting a business without commercial space

    Selling at flea markets or city streets

    Opting to sell merchandise at flea markets or from a street-side pop up may also offer a way around leasing commercial space. The city of Toronto offers permits for outdoor vending of both food and non-food items. To sell non-food items at flea markets on public property, vendors require a Street Vending Permit along with a vendors permit and a registered business name. If a vendor plans to sell food, a Toronto Business Licence must be obtained and Public Health should be advised. Note that different municipalities typically have different licencing and permit requirements for street-side vending.

    Operating the business from a residential address is subject to zoning by-laws

    Using a residentially zoned property to operate a business generally constitutes home occupation. Zoning by-laws regulate and, depending on the city, may restrict home occupations. In Toronto, for example, home occupations offering services to clients, not for educational use, contravene the City’s zoning By-laws.[1] Zoning by-laws in cities like Richmond Hill or Barrie limit home services to one client at a time and require services to take place indoors. Meanwhile, Innisfil’s zoning by-laws are far less restrictive of home occupations. Evidently, the location of the business will determine the kinds of solutions to operating without a commercial space. Note, that insurance coverage will likely vary depending on where and how a business operates. It’s always wise to contact an insurance company and obtain additional coverage to mitigate liability.

    If you’re considering starting a business, it may be valuable to explore different business structures before getting the operations off the ground. Check out our article on the advantages of incorporating a business and connect with a lawyer at Kalfa Law to discuss the optimal approach to getting your venture off the ground.


    [1] Under the City of Toronto Zoning By-law 569-2013, section 10.40.20.100 highlights that residential zones are subject 150.5. Section 150.5.20.1(2) states “a home occupation, other than one for an education use, may not have clients or customers attending the premises for… (B) receiving services.” Note that special exemptions are available for service providers such as barbers and beauticians or certain health related professionals.


    -Ocean Enbar, Summer Law Student, JD Candidate

    Ocean Enbar is a JD candidate and summer student at Kalfa Law. Ocean assists our corporate, commercial, and tax lawyers in preparing research memoranda, conducting due diligence, drafting letters, and tending to the general corporate needs of our clients. Ocean completed his honours political science degree at Western University. He then worked as an intern on parliament hill until he transitioned to the private sector, interning for a reputable international lobbying firm.

    © Kalfa Law 2021

    The above provides information of a general nature only. This does not constitute legal advice. All transactions or circumstances vary, and specified legal advice is required to meet your particular needs. If you have a legal question you should consult with a lawyer.

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