Massage code change may signal loosening regulations for mobile businesses

A change in city code allows massage therapists to bring their services into other people's homes. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa City Council approved an ordinance change that allows traveling massage therapists to be exempt from regulations concerning home-based or brick-and-mortar businesses.

The decision was made largely on the basis massage therapists should not be considered “home-based” just as mobile physical therapists and nurses, or lawn and pool services are not.

“This amendment basically will effectively allow licensed legitimate massage therapy professionals to provide their services in other people’s homes by exempting them from certain sections of city code that would ordinarily prohibit a business to operate in a residential neighborhood outside of the regulations that concern home-based occupations,” Director of Development Services Martin Scribner said.

Scribner suggested the current regulation requiring massage therapist to maintain a storefront was prohibiting them from getting a license and, thus, needed to be changed. This prohibition, he said, was forcing mobile massage therapists to essentially break the law if they wanted to do business in the city.

Council member Henry Wade expressed concern about reporting crimes associated with in-home services like massage therapy.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl encouraged the change, which he feels will keep crimes from going unreported.

“Victims who are robbed during the illegal act often don’t report their victimization,” Stahl said. “And so, sometimes these are very hidden crimes that go on for a long time before they come to the police department’s attention.”

As more businesses are bucking the brick-and-mortar model, some argued the city must keep up with economic trends that, when embraced, could help the city grow.

Mayor Christian Price said he feels it’s crucial for the council to help loosen these regulations and promote growth wherever possible.

“We know that’s obviously a challenge here in Maricopa to make a living, especially if you’re a small, home-based business,” Price said. “I think that meets the overall goal of this council – to promote small business – and I see that moves us in the right direction.”

Massage therapist and seven-year Maricopa resident Marisol Reyes agreed with Price, saying the move will make it easier for those massage therapists to be self-employed, when they either cannot afford to open their own parlor or they simply do not want to.

“It’s already such a burden,” Reyes said. “Getting licensed and getting an LLC, not to mention insurance, it can be a lot.”

All these factors, Reyes added, can lead to a massage therapist doing the easy thing and getting a job working for a parlor or clinic, of which Maricopa has few. If she had the chance to operate as a self-employed message therapist in Maricopa, she said, she would probably be making quite a bit more money than she does now.

This change could potentially open the door for other ordinance changes concerning mobile services that otherwise, under current city code, must abide by the “brick-and-mortar” regulations prescribed to their type of business.

The change was approved 6-0 by the council. Councilmember Vincent Manfredi abstained due to a conflict of interest; his daughter is a massage therapist.

This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.