Metro

Lawmakers trim hair-cutting rules to allow for house calls

For years, stylists have been making house calls to cut and style hair before special events — and breaking the law in the process.

Not that regulators have been busting through the doors of honeymoon suites or living rooms to halt those stylists and march them away, mid-cut — not wanting to be “in the business of shutting down someone’s prom or wedding,” as Chuck Borstel, director of the state Division of Professional Licensure, put it.

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But all of those outside-the-shop styling sessions are above-board now, thanks to a new state law tucked into the back of the $39 billion budget bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker on Friday.

Language in one of the “outside sections” included in the budget made it immediately legal for all 75,938 of the licensed barbers, cosmetologists, hairdressers, manicurists, and others who fall under the purview of the state Board of Registration of Cosmetology and Barbering to take their talents on the road.

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Senator Ryan C. Fattman, a 32-year-old Webster Republican, wrote the legislation after hearing initially from his own hair cutter about what seemed at best like a muddy area of the law. Then Fattman went to a Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting and met licensed master barber Misael “Mike” Arriaga, who was trying to follow the letter of the law but found it put him in a cruel bind.

Arriaga, owner of Major League Barbershop in Whitinsville, said an older client from Uxbridge, homebound and awaiting major surgery, could no longer make it in for his monthly trim and asked if Arriaga could make a house call. Arriaga had no choice but to apologize and turn him down, he said.

“It was hard for me,” said Arriaga, a native of the Dominican Republic who studied at Rob Roy Academy’s barbering program in Worcester, earning his apprentice license in 2005.

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“Where I went to school, they told us, ‘This is the law, and we can’t be doing house calls.’ ”

Fattman, who identifies as one of three millennials in the 40-member Senate, said he couldn’t believe that he could summon a driver to pick him up using his iPhone — with an app such as Uber or Lyft — but that the law prevented him from calling on a mobile barber or hair stylist in similar fashion.

“In this new economy, where technology and innovation are having a dramatic impact on how services are provided, we thought that was pretty arcane,” Fattman said. “That may have fit into the parameters of the old economy, the 20th-century economy, but not necessarily the 21st-century sharing economy and tech economy.”

Montrez Williams founded Mobile Cuts Boston about two years ago, partnering with master barber Christopher Roberts to build a sleek barber shop on wheels, after reading about similar outfits in other states.

But Mobile Cuts has only been “semi-operating,” Williams said, while hoping the Division of Professional Licensure would adopt regulations allowing their trailer to pull up and offer cuts in office parks, along city sidewalks, or in clients’ driveways. The new law made them fully and immediately legal as of Friday.

“It’s been a good fight,” Williams said, excited to hear about the change. “The state is welcome to come up anytime to make sure that we’re up to code, and all that good stuff.”

The state board overseeing hair, skin, and nail professions already had been advancing regulations that would allow manicurists to make house calls, responding to a proposal from a Manhattan-based startup initially known as Manicube. Laws supercede regulations, so the new law opens the door not just to mobile manicures but to all of the professions that the barbering and cosmetology board oversees, said Borstel, executive director for the state’s many licensing boards.

Until now, hair stylists who make house calls haven’t exactly been operating in the shadows — a quick Google search turns up a few in the area, though none immediately responded to calls from the Globe — and the state has been reluctant to impose sanctions, such as fines or license revocation. Borstel called that “the worst kept secret” in the beauty business.

But the new law will bring those stylists more fully into the open and make it easier for others to join them, he said.

“It’s sort of the wave of the future,” he said. “Instead of having it be underground, where there’s no regulation and people are doing it anyway.”

Eric Moskowitz can be reached at eric.moskowitz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.
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