The term “zoning” refers to the way that a city is divided or sectioned off based on the properties and activities associated with properties in that area. Generally speaking, zoning laws divide property areas into two main designations: “residential” and “commercial zones”. 

These two categories are associated with particular types of properties and types of activities that are allowed in and around those properties. Typically, these two types of zones do not mix; that is, an area is usually marked off as residential or commercial. 

In a residential area, only residential properties and associated activities are allowed. Similarly, in a commercially zoned area, only commercial buildings and commercial activities are allowed.

What is Residential Zoning?

Residential zoning is land that is typically designated for houses, apartments, and duplexes. Only activities associated with general living are allowed there. For instance, people can sleep, and live in such areas, and generally can’t perform commercial activities in these areas like opening a restaurant.

As another example, the laws regarding residential property may outline regulations such as whether mobile homes can be parked on the property. Or, zoning laws may limit the number of animals at a residence. Whether a homeowner can open and operate a home-based business also depends on local residential zoning laws.

What Commercial Zoning Laws Used For?

Commercially zoned areas are typically reserved for business, including restaurants, hotels, offices, nightclubs, and shopping centers. Commercial zoning laws typically allow for the operation and performance of business activities. Examples of these include selling goods or food, or providing services for money like a dry cleaning business. 

Commercial zoning laws do have their own sets of limitations. For example, most business properties are not allowed to also have the business owners live or sleep on the same premises. 

Can I Open Up a Business in a Residential Area?

This really depends on the jurisdiction. As mentioned, most business activities are only allowed in commercially-zoned areas. However, many places can open in areas that are deemed mixed-use zoned areas. A mixed-use zoned property is for commercial and residential areas. This may allow for some hybrid properties, such as when a person is allowed to conduct business operations from their place of residence.

The best way to find out if you can is to check the zoning maps of your area, which can often be found in your local city hall. You can also ask a local real estate attorney as they often deal with these types of questions and can help you get started with the process. 

What is a Zoning Violation?

A zoning violation involves breaking a property zoning law or ordinance. For instance, suppose that a homeowner decides to open a business in the basement of his home. If home-based businesses are not allowed according to residential zoning laws in that community, then it is a zoning violation.

Conversely, if a business is operating in a commercial area, they usually can’t perform residential functions on the same property. For instance, a retail store owner typically cannot rent out a section of their business property for someone to live in (unless they have a specific permit or permission to do so). 

The purpose of these separations is to ensure that people do not get harmed in commercial areas, and to ensure that the character of residential neighborhoods is not weakened by business activities. For instance, if there is business activity in a residential area, then it can create issues like loitering, noise complaints, and trash issues. 

A local government will usually discover a violation by inspecting the property. An agency inspector may uncover the violation during a routine check, which can sometimes happen with or without the owner’s consent, depending on the situation.

What are the Penalties for a Zoning Violation?

Violations of zoning laws (whether commercial or residential) can lead to serious consequences. A property owner or  landowner who violates zoning laws can face punishment such as:

  • Jail time;
  • Criminal fines;
  • Civil penalties;
  • Withholding or suspension of a building permit;
  • Loss of business operating privileges; and
  • Decrease or increase in property value.

In many instances, a violation may be reported through complaints from a neighbor or a nearby business in the area. For instance, a homeowner or business owner may find out about the violation and report it to the zoning agency. This can help zoning agencies to enforce the laws in the area.

Who Makes the Laws Regarding Zoning?

Most laws are created by a zoning or planning department in a particular jurisdiction that oversees the zoning laws. They pay close attention to the needs, the character, and the value of the particular residential or business community. City councils and boards may also have input in creating laws and policies that affect or dictate zoning in the area. 

Citizens or residents of the area can often participate in town meetings where specific complaints or requests regarding can be voiced. In response, laws and ordinances may be discussed to address the particular issue. 

An example of this is where there is a business that is located too close to a cluster of homes and is causing problems for the neighborhood. If many citizens complain about the issues, the zoning department may respond with an appropriate law, ordinance, or remedy.

Do I Need an Attorney if I Have Issues Involving Property Zoning Laws?

Property zoning laws are important because they have the potential to affect entire neighborhoods and communities. Consulting with a real estate lawyer about property zoning laws can help you avoid any serious problems in the future such as a zoning violation or fines. If you need help with a specific issue or complaint, your attorney can advise you on how to take action.