Lawsuit Challenges Metro’s Home Studio Ban

A lawsuit filed on Dec. 5, 2017, challenges Metro’s long-standing ban on some “home occupations,” including for-profit recording studios. The lawsuit was filed by the Beacon Center of Tennessee and the Institute for Justice on behalf of Lij Shaw, owner of Toy Box Studio, and Pat Raynor, a work-at-home hair stylist. The suit challenges the ban on a variety of constitutional grounds.
     Home recording studios have been a Nashville tradition since country legend Hank Snow constructed one of the first in his “Rainbow Ranch” home in Madison in the early 1950s. For decades, music has been recorded in spare rooms, garages, and converted utility sheds throughout Nashville. While recording in one’s home isn’t a crime, a 1998 city ordinance expressly forbids home-based businesses from working with paying clients in person. Steep fines and potential imprisonment threaten work-from-home entrepreneurs, and the law endangers one of Nashville’s most entrenched 
musical traditions.
     In 2012, Mayor Megan Barry cosponsored legislation to reverse the policy while she was serving as a member of the Metro Council. The proposed bill exempted home recording studios following specific guidelines regarding parking, number of clients per day, noise, and other matters. The bill fizzled in the face of a variety of objections and was indefinitely deferred in May 2013, leaving scores of home studios operating outside the law.
     In the fall of 2015, Lij Shaw received a cease-and-desist letter from the Metro Codes Department. The action was the result of an anonymous complaint regarding his business, Toy Box Studio, located in a detached garage at his Renraw neighborhood home. “They made me stop working commercially in the studio,” Shaw says. “I was ordered to remove the address from Google Maps, shut down my YouTube channel, remove my prices, rates, and a welcome video of myself from my website. It was a series of restrictions all targeted at my ability to freely promote myself on 
the internet.”
     Shaw says he spent more than a year applying for a commercial zoning waiver for his property. Despite support from many of his neighbors, his appeals were rejected. With no other options available, he turned to the courts. “My business is not a walk-in storefront,” he says. “It’s strictly by appointment only. My studio is professionally soundproofed. I have plenty of parking in my drive, there’s no signage, there’s no additional building going on. It would be perfectly all right to invite friends over to record every single day as long as I didn’t accept money to record them. The essence of the suit is a defense of my constitutional right to work and make a living from my home.
     “The reason they call this Music City is because it’s one of the few remaining places where professional musicians still get together to make music face to face,” Shaw continues. “So I believe that I have a right to earn a living and support my family from my home. I’m at the forefront of this issue, but I’m representing everybody I know.”