Exclusionary zoning is any zoning ordinance which has a real purpose or actual effect or result of achieving a form of economic or racial segregation.  An exclusionary zoning ordinance can cause economic segregation by restricting land usage to high-cost, low population density residential development.  These restrictions can effectively prevent low to moderate income families and individuals from moving into an area.  In turn, minority groups with low income levels may also be excluded from living in certain areas.

How Do Exclusionary Zoning Ordinances Work?

Exclusionary zoning ordinances come in a variety of forms but all work to exclude certain types of people from living in an area.  Some of the most common examples of exclusionary zoning ordinances are:

  • Minimum lot area requirements
  • Minimum square footage requirements
  • Restrictions on apartments or other forms of group living dwellings.  See Growth Control and Zoning.
  • Restrictions on what groups of people may occupy single dwellings.  See Family Zoning.

Is Exclusionary Zoning Legal?

Because exclusionary zoning ordinances do not directly exclude certain groups of people from living in an area, but rather do so indirectly through the methods listed above, the restrictions themselves are not illegal per se.  However, some courts have held that exclusionary zoning ordinances violate the equal protection clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments when the intent of the local government is clearly to exclude groups of people, particularly those with low incomes and minorities, from living in a certain area. 

Some states, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, have held that under the "Fair Share" doctrine, all areas must provide their fair share of low to moderate income housing and may not use exclusionary zoning to completely exclude it.

Can an Attorney Help Me With My Exclusionary Zoning Problem?

If you feel that a zoning restriction was designed to exclude you from living in a certain area on the basis of income or race, an experienced property attorney can advise you on your rights.  Additionally, an attorney could help evaluate the zoning ordinance and tell you how you may be affected as a landowner.