Zoning ordinances are regulations for land use within cities and counties. State and Federal governments do not usually engage in land use regulations, but cities and counties would use zoning ordinances for land use regulations. Certain zones that may be regulated are:

  • Residential
  • Industrial
  • Commercial
  • Special use
  • Mixed-use
  • Agricultural

The local government places zoning ordinances in order to enforce a type of restriction on landowners. Homeowners and property owners may be protected from zoning ordinances by petitioning the regulations and obtaining a variance to the existing zoning law.

Is There Anyway I Can Get around a Zoning Ordinance?

There are two common legal devices to obtain relief from zoning ordinances, Variances and Amendments/Rezoning: 

  • Variances: Most zoning ordinances allow the board of adjustment to grant a variance to a property owner when strict enforcement of the ordinance would cause unnecessary hardship.
    • Generally, the board must find that the grant of the variance will not adversely affect neighboring properties or the effectiveness of the zoning ordinance, and it may impose conditions upon the variance. Some jurisdictions do not permit variances.
    • Test for Hardship: To prove unnecessary hardship, a property owner must show hat he cannot use the property as zoned because of its unique features.
  • Amendments and Rezoning: An alterative form of relief available to a property owner is to request the local legislative body to amend the zoning ordinance to rezone the parcel in question. The following restrictions on rezoning have been implemented in some jurisdictions:
    • Neighbor Protest: Some jurisdictions require a rezoning amendment to have the approval of closely situated neighbors.
    • Mistake or Change of Condition: This is a required justification in some jurisdictions.
    • Administrative Act: Some jurisdictions do not allow courts to make these determinations, and instead have in place a legislative body capable of making these decisions.
    • Spot Zoning: When zoning is seen to confer preferential treatment onto a parcel that is not afforded to others, it may be found to be spot zoning, and invalid as a result.

Can Zoning Ordinance Be Avoided?

You may be able to avoid zoning law troubles by doing prior research prior to doing business in an area that has been zoned or buying property to obtain the knowledge that you will legally be able to do business in that area or construct a house in a special way.

Also, if you are planning to operate a business in a certain area, first study the surrounding areas to find out whether there are existing zoning laws that regulate the specific business or activities that you are intended in doing. Depending on your area, you might be subject to specific zoning laws that regulate parking, noise, air quality, visual appearance, business signs.

Should I Contact a Property Attorney about My Zoning Problems?

If you have questions or a potential legal matter involving zoning, the advice of a real property attorney can be extremely helpful. An experienced real property lawyer can help you decide the strength of your potential case, and can explain some of the complex legal ideas behind zoning.