A Town of East Hampton resident can continue to operate a home-based dog-walking and pet sitting business after the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to overturn a previous determination by the Town’s Building Inspector, who concluded that the business use was not a “home occupation” as defined in the East Hampton Town Code.

For more than a decade, Lori Marsden and her husband operated a dog-walking and pet sitting business known as Lori’s Pet Care out of their single-family residence.  Their services include pet care such as feedings and administering medication for all types of pets, as well as walking dogs. The business also offers daily dog day care and pet sitting services, and accommodates overnight stays when pet owners leave town.

In July 2017, a Town Code Enforcement Officer issued violations to Marsden for operating the business out of her house, which is located within a residential zone within the Town.  While her enforcement action was pending in the Town’s Justice Court, Marsden’s attorney sought a determination from the Building Inspector that the dog-walking and pet sitting service was a lawful home occupation business under the Town Code.

Section 255-1-20 of the East Hampton Town Code permits residents to operate businesses out of their home as long as they do not exceed 25 percent of the gross floor area or 500 square feet, whichever is less; that the business be conducted solely by those occupying the dwelling, except for one additional employee; and that there be no external evidence of the business, such as noise.

The Building Inspector determined that the use did not qualify as a home occupation pursuant to the Town Code based on her finding that the business produces external evidence of the business at times when the dogs are taken out of the residence during walks, playtime or to relieve themselves.  The Zoning Board disagreed.

In its March 19, 2019 Determination, the Zoning Board determined that Marsden’s pet sitting business met the Town Code definition of home occupation for several reasons.  Specifically, the Board found it compelling that the use does not change the character of the neighborhood and is secondary to the residential use of the property.  Moreover, the Board found that the record did not support the Building Inspector’s finding that the use created external evidence of the business operation.  Indeed, a member of the Board noted that there were no kennels outside or other evidence of the dogs.  Finally, the Board noted that the Town Code expressly excludes a “breeding kennel” from its definition of home occupation, but not a “boarding kennel.”

The Zoning Board was not persuaded by a video depicting barking dogs that was submitted by a neighbor at the January 29, 2019 pubic hearing.  Instead, it noted that it cannot be determined from the video whether the dogs barking are Marsden’s own dogs or dogs she is pet sitting for or even if they are dogs are on Marsden’s property.  After noting that Marsden has two dogs of her own, the Board concluded that there was “no evidence that the activities by dogs from the pet sitting business can be distinguished from the use of the residence by [Marsden’s] own dogs.”

The Zoning Board’s determination is a victory for Marsden, and allows her to operate Lori’s Pet Care from her home provided the requisites of Town Code § 255-1-20 are met.  However, there are some who believe that the East Hampton Town Board should update the home occupation definition specifically as it relates to dog care.  Citing the necessity for dog day care to some pet owners, Zoning Board member Tim Brenneman stated during one of the meetings that “the issue of pet care dog care is worthy of a more detailed definition that better considers the needs of the community.”