A zoning variance allows a person to use their land in a way that bypasses or exempts it from local zoning ordinances and laws. There are two basic types of zoning variances:

  • Area variances: These allow the holder to own property that conflicts with physical requirements in a zoning ordinance (for instance a building that exceeds the square footage limitations for a given zone).
  • Use variances: These permit the holder to use their land or property in a way normally prohibited by the zoning laws (for instance, running a business in an otherwise residential area).

Obtaining a variance usually involves an analysis of many different factors and can take some time to for the process to be fully completed.

How Can I Obtain a Zoning Variance?

In order to obtain a zoning variance, the property or business owner usually must apply with the local zoning board, building inspector, or similar entity. The exact application process may vary according to the city or county. The board will then conduct a thorough analysis of all the factors involved. They will basically weigh the needs of the applicant against the overall impact that the variance would have on the community.

Standards for this review are generally different depending on whether it’s an area variance or a use variance:

  • For an area variance, the applicant must usually show that the zoning laws deny them of a permitted use of their property.
  • For a use variance, the applicant must show that the zoning law leaves them with no "viable use" for the property unless a variance is granted.
  • As you can see, a use variance is usually more difficult to obtain than an area variance. The variance must also not interfere with any rights of neighbors or other businesses.

What If an Application for a Zoning Variance Is Denied?

If the application is denied, the applicant can sometimes appeal the decision. In other cases, it may also be possible for the local community and neighborhood to get involved in the process. For instance, the zoning board might ask for input from residents in the area regarding the proposed variance and any potential violations. This can work either for or against the applicant.

Lastly, it’s important that that applicant be able to provide full records and documentation of any matters related to the variance. For example, when applying for an area variance, the person might need to show the permitted usage of their property.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Zoning Variance?

Obtaining a zoning variance can often be a major endeavor, as it has the potential to affect an entire neighborhood or community. You may wish to hire a real estate lawyer if you need help with the zoning laws in your area. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and guidance when applying for a variance. Also, if you have a dispute and need to file a lawsuit, your lawyer can provide you with legal representation in court.