Land use regulations govern the way that land can be used in a given area. Such laws are usually maintained by local governments and municipal codes, as each city is going to have different characteristics with regards to land. 

Generally speaking, land use regulations address issues like:

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

Land use also comes into play for “planned cities”, which are cities whose layout and infrastructure follows an overall scheme for development and growth. 

What Is a Land Use Plan?

A land use plan is a plan for how land is to be used, allotted, and improved upon by private or government entities. For example, a land use plan may be implemented by a business to ensure that local zoning codes are being followed, and to maximize the efficiency of business operations.  A well thought-out land use plan is necessary for certain industries, especially those involving farming, mining, and natural gas.

Alternatively, a local city government may have a land use plan in place. A current trend for many city developments is the aim to achieve the status of a “green city”. This means that the city is structured in such a way as to promote environment-friendly development.  In such planned cities, businesses usually need to adhere to the general principles contained in the land use plan. These can include regulations on the amount of emissions that a factory puts out, or the type of energy that the business consumes.

Is Land Use Planning the Same as Zoning?

Land use laws are often lumped together in the same category of laws known as “Zoning, Planning and Land Use”. The terms “zoning”, and “land use” are often used interchangeably. However, the two are very different in nature. Zoning generally refers to the regulation of activities within a given area. On the other hand, land use refers more to the types of buildings that can be built in an area, as well as the way that a plot of land can be used.

Thus, a zoning violation may involve a business selling products in an area that they are not supposed to be doing business (door-to-door solicitation is a common zoning violation). In comparison, a land usually involves a building that is wrongly placed, or a building that exceeds height limits. 

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

What Are the Penalties for Violations of Land Use Regulations?

Legal penalties for violations of land use regulations typically involve a court-order injunction. For example, a judge may issue an injunction that requires a business to clean up a toxic spill that they caused. Or, an injunction may require a business to cease operations that cause too much greenhouse gas emission.

For some land use violations, legal penalties may involve a damages award that must be paid to parties that have suffered economic losses due to the violation. Damages awards can sometimes be issued in conjunction with a court-ordered injunction. Or, a business may have their operating license revoked for violating a land use regulation.

Finally, government authorities are not immune to land use lawsuits. Many land use lawsuits involve a private party suing a government body that is trying to take control or possession of private land.

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

Land use regulations can be very complicated, and they can often affect large sections of the city population. If you have any legal issues involving a land use regulation, you may wish to contact a real estate lawyer for assistance or representation. An experienced and qualified attorney will be able to help you file a claim in court, and can explain the local laws in your area.