Find the right lawyer now

Common Zoning Disputes

Find a Local Real Estate Lawyer near You

What is Zoning?

Zoning refers to the regulation of privately owned land by public authorities.  Zoning laws are one of the main tools of local governments in community planning, neighborhood protection, and regulating business and industry activities.  They can be very helpful for providing a safe and pleasing environment.  For instance, they can help relieving traffic congestion or provide some unity of appearance among commercial buildings.

Local laws that deal with zoning are called zoning ordinances.  Each city typically has many different types of zoning ordinances.  A majority of zoning ordinances regulate how land is to be used (i.e., whether for residential purposes, business uses, industrial production, etc.).  Most zoning disputes involve a complex interaction between business and residential interests.

What are Some Common Zoning Disputes?

Zoning disputes may involve a dispute between two private individuals, like when two neighbors have a dispute over property lines.  More often, zoning disputes occur between a private entity such as a retail business and the local city government.  These types of zoning disputes typically involve a commercial building that is located very near to residential neighborhoods. 

Some common zoning disputes include issues such as:

  • Parking and Parking Lots: Disputes can arise when the parking of cars at a local business establishment disrupts the ability of residents to enjoy residential areas
  • Building Height:  This is a common one- disputes over  building height involve not only safety issues, but also issues like obstruction of views
  • Signs:  These types of disputes deal with the placement of signs, especially those that obstruct access to other signs and those that create a “cluttered” appearance in the neighborhood
  • “Setback” issues:  Setback refers to the minimum distance that a building can be located from a property line.  Most setback ordinances are meant to avoid disputes over access to sunlight or ventilation.  They may also be somewhat aesthetic in nature, i.e., to avoid an “overcrowded” appearance of a certain zone.  They may also involve the distance of a  building from the roadway for safety purposes

Finally, zoning disputes can involve not just buildings but also activities being conducted or limited in certain areas.  For example, soliciting may be prohibited in a certain area, as would be the selling of goods on a street corner without a license.  Sound decibel limits may also be incorporated into some zoning regulations.  Zoning ordinances can often be very different from city to city, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood, since each community has its own unique set of needs.

How are Zoning Disputes Resolved?

Zoning disputes can be resolved through a number of legal channels.  First, the parties involved in a zoning dispute can usually file a claim with the local government.  This usually requires that the parties initially exercise “self-help”, such as when two neighbors resolve a dispute independently.  If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute on their own, only then will the local government take steps to intervene in the situation. 

Alternatively, the parties can file a civil lawsuit in order to have the zoning dispute resolved in court.  This is common for zoning ordinances that appear to be discriminatory in nature.  Zoning lawsuits are also common where one party has considerably more resources than the other, like when a neighborhood resident has an environmental complaint against a large corporate office located near their home. 

In a zoning lawsuit, the typical remedy is a court injunction ordering one of the parties to cease illegal or unlawful activities (such as illegal dumping or toxic pollution).  In many zoning lawsuits, damages awards can be issued if the dispute caused one of the parties to experience economic losses. 

Because zoning ordinances can affect entire groups of a local population, many zoning lawsuits are filed as a class action lawsuit.

How Can Lawyer Help With Zoning Disputes?

Zoning disputes generally require the assistance of a lawyer.  Whether a claim is being filed with the government or through the legal court system, the expertise of an attorney may be required.  Zoning ordinances can be complicated and will need to be interpreted by an experienced real estate lawyer.  A lawyer can also represent you in court if you need to file a civil lawsuit or a class action lawsuit. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 03-26-2018 03:39 AM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.