Setback ordinances are property laws governing property lines and boundaries.  A setback is the minimum distance from a property line that a building can be built.  These distances are generally regulated by zoning laws and restrictions maintained by local municipal governments.

The purpose of most setback ordinances is to prevent houses from being built too close to one another.  Also, setback ordinances may also govern access to ventilation and light (i.e. property should not block a neighbor’s access or view).  Many setback ordinances also apply to businesses, particularly the minimum distance that the building can be from the road, to promote safety.

Who Can I Sue if I Have a Dispute Over Setback Issues?

Disputes over setback issues can involve several different parties.  In general, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the following parties if you have dispute over setback rules:

  • A neighbor- for example, if their home, fence, or structure is encroaching upon your own land
  • Businesses or corporations:  Sometimes businesses may raise a building near a residential area; this can cause setback disputes
  • Local government bodies:  this may be more difficult to do- you usually need to file a complaint with a government agency before a private civil lawsuit can be filed

A setback lawsuit can also involve an interaction between all these different parties involved.  For example, both a resident and a business might file a lawsuit against the local municipality if they feel that a setback ordinance is unfair. 

What are the Legal Remedies for Setback violations?

There may be a number of legal remedies available for setback violations.  These can include:

  • Injunction to cease building operations (if not already begun)
  • Injunction requiring a party to move a structure or fence
  • Changes or modifications to property lines
  • Damages awards, if the violations had caused losses or property damage

One of the difficulties in with setback violations is that the building or structure may already be well in place.  Thus, it may be difficult to require the owner to move the structure if it is found to be in violation of setback rules.  Even more difficult is the request to have a building torn down or demolished because it is over the setback distance.

Thus, in cases where a building is already fully constructed, the appropriate legal remedy is usually a damage award to reimburse the other party for losses associated with the violation. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues With Setback Ordinances?

Setback ordinances can often be different from area to area, since each city or even neighborhood is going to have different needs.  If you have any inquiries, complaints, or disputes over a setback ordinance, you may wish to contact a real estate lawyer for advice or representation.  Your lawyer can help explain the setback laws in your area, and can assist you in filing a lawsuit if necessary.