Violations of Land Use Regulations

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 What Are Land Use Regulations?

Land use regulations is a legal term that refers to a set of rules and regulations that govern the way that land can be used in a designated area. Land use regulations are designed to control the development of both private and public land use by dividing land into different zones based on the type of activity allowed by the regulations.

In general, land use regulations and laws are maintained by local governments and municipal codes. This means that land use regulations will differ from city to city, as each city is going to have different characteristics and goals when it comes to the use of land within its jurisdiction.

For example, one city may designate certain zones for residential purposes, such as for housing. Then, the city may designate other zones for commercial purposes, such as business operations. Finally, a city may also designate certain zones for industrial use, such as for warehouses or factories.

In addition to designating zones for specified uses, land use regulations are also used to specify the appearance of buildings within the zones, such as regulations concerning the maximum height or size of buildings. Finally, land use regulations are used to preserve certain areas within the jurisdiction for public purposes or preservation.

Although land use regulations will differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, in general, land use regulations will address issues such as:

  • What types of buildings can be built in a particular area;
  • The size of buildings within a particular area;
  • Various provisions regarding boundaries for plots of land;
  • The extent to which government authorities can lay claim to private land, which is also known as “takings” regulations;
  • Environmental concerns such as regulations concerning dumping, handling of toxic/hazardous materials, and access to natural resources.

What Is a Land Use Plan?

A land use plan refers to a plan, often a document, that outlines the future use or reuse of land and the structures built upon the land within a local jurisdiction’s planning area. Generally, a land use plan describes how land is to be allotted, used, and improved upon by both private and government entities.

For instance, a land use plan may be implemented by a business to ensure that a jurisdiction’s local zoning codes are being followed and to maximize the efficiency of the business operations within the zone.

Another example is a residential developer ensuring that all residences within their land use plan are abiding by the regulations concerning residential zoning in the area. Land use plans are especially necessary for industries, as land use plans will impact the usefulness of industry operations, such as farming, mining, or the capture of natural resources.

In addition to private actors, a local city or government may also utilize a land use plan. In fact, there is a trend for many city developments to aim to achieve the status of being a “green city,” or a city that is structured to promote environment-friendly development.

In these planned cities, businesses that operate within the city will be required to adhere to the principles contained in the city’s land use plan. This land use plan is often coupled with regulations concerning the amount of emissions that a business may put out or the type and amount of energy a business may consume.

Is Land Use Planning the Same as Zoning?

Although land use planning laws are often lumped together in the same category of laws concerning zoning, the two terms do not refer to the same set of laws and regulations. In fact, the terms zoning and land use planning are very different in nature in terms of what the laws and regulations seek to accomplish.

The following is a list of the most common types of zones that are associated with land use regulations:

  • Use Districts: As mentioned above, common-use districts include residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural.
    • Use districts may be further subdivided according to the intensity of the permitted use.
    • For example, residential use districts are generally divided along a continuum, from single-family dwelling units to the high rise apartments and condominiums;
  • Height Districts: Building height regulation is one of the oldest forms of zoning regulations, where a community may set different height limits for different parts of town;
  • Land Coverage: There are numerous examples of land coverage and bulk regulations, including:
    • Minimum floor space for buildings and residences;
    • Minimum lot size;
      Floor-area ratio;
    • Open space;
    • Cluster;
  • Floating Zones: In some cases, a zoning ordinance may permit a specific type of use, but it should not be included within any of the districts that are actually shown on the zoning map. These zones then “float” until they are applied to a specific parcel of land; and
  • Holding Zones: In many cases, local communities may be unprepared to zone their entire area comprehensively immediately upon creation. Holding zones are then used to restrict development in an area before there has been an opportunity to zone and plan it.

As can be seen, zoning generally refers to the regulation of activities within a given area. In other words, zoning regulations are designed to ensure that the different land uses and activities within a created zone are compatible and conducive to the community’s health, safety, and welfare.

Examples of zoning violations may include parking violations, building code violations, violations concerning signage, environmental violations, or height and density violations.

On the other hand, land use violations refer to the infringement of the rules and regulations that govern the use of land and structures, such as the types of buildings that can be built in a given area.

Land use violations involve bigger-picture violations such as the maximum height and size of proposed buildings, provisions concerning land preservation or reservation for public purposes, and the construction standards concerning the design, improvement, and other specifications applicable to the development of properties within a land use plan.

Other common land use violations include unauthorized access to or harvesting of natural resources, issues concerning pollution, or intentional interference with people’s access to public areas.

What Are the Penalties for Violations of Land Use Regulations?

The legal penalties for violations of land use regulations will be dependent on the severity and impact of the violation. In general, the most prevalent legal penalties for violations of land use regulations will typically involve a court-ordered injunction.

For example, a judge may issue an injunction that requires a business to clean up toxic waste or spills that they may have been responsible for. An injunction may also require a business to cease operations that are resulting in too much emissions.

For some land use violations, there may be legal penalties that involve a monetary damages award that must be paid to parties that suffered economic losses due to the land use violation. For example, a construction company may face monetary penalties for undertaking a land use activity without a required permit, including daily fines from $100 to thousands of dollars per day, depending on the jurisdiction’s laws and regulations.

Penalties for illegal land use may also result in a business may have its operating license revoked for a period of time. Finally, government authorities may also be sued for violating land use regulations. In other words, government authorities are not immune from land use lawsuits.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Violation of a Land Use Regulation?

As can be seen, land use regulations can be very complicated and often affect large sections of a city’s population. As such, if you have any legal issues involving a land use regulation or violation, it may be in your best interests to consult with an experienced real estate lawyer.

An experienced real estate attorney will be able to help you understand your local land use regulations. Additionally, an attorney will also be able to help you defend yourself if you have been accused of violating a land use regulation. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.


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