Who Has the Authority to Regulate Land Use?

Land use is subject to police power of the states. The federal government does not engage in zoning or other direct forms of land use regulation except on land that it owns. The federal government does indirectly influence state and local regulation through its allocation of money.

What are the Different Bodies of State Regulatory Authority?

The following are the four generally recognized bodies of state regulatory authority: 

  • Direct State Regulation: Land is directly regulated at the state level in only a few jurisdictions. Hawaii has a statewide land use classification scheme, and a few other states employ a permit process through which the state approves local land use measures in certain highly important areas of land development.
  • Regional Regulation: A state may create or authorize affected communities to create a regional agency to regulate development in the region because of its special environment and coinciding problems. This form of authority is sometimes exercised as a joint partnership between states.
  • Local Regulation: The most prevalent form of land use regulation in the United States is at the county and local level pursuant to authorization by the state. Every state has some form of enabling and delegating power to regulate land to local communities. This is most commonly seen in the state allocation of local budgets.
  • Voter Regulation: Some jurisdictions permit the citizenry, though voter referendum measures, to regulate land use. The propriety of voter involvement may depend on whether the land use regulation that is at issue is truly general legislation affecting all residents, such as a city wide height limit.

Should I Contact an Attorney about My Land Use Questions?

If you have questions regarding pending land use regulation, or would like to begin the regulatory process, the advice of an experienced real property attorney can be extremely helpful.  A real estate lawyer can help you understand how land use is regulated in your region.