Important Zoning Law Considerations Before You Buy or Lease
Your business may not be as free to do everything as you think. You’ll need to be careful that your activities don’t violate your local government’s zoning regulations. You’ll also need to keep this in mind when purchasing property. What are some important zoning law considerations?
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Your business may not be as free to do everything as you think. You’ll need to be careful that your activities don’t violate your local government’s zoning regulations. You’ll also need to keep this in mind when purchasing property. What are some important zoning law considerations? Here are a few.
- Know the definition of zoning
Zoning ordinances regulate, by districts, the uses of land and buildings for trade, industry, residence, and other purposes. The reason for zoning is to protect the public’s health, safety, morals, and general welfare. By enacting zoning ordinances, state and local governments limit the size, height, density, and types of buildings to be erected; regulate areas of open spaces, yards, and courts; and regulate and restrict the location of trades, industries, and buildings.
- Find out about your zoning district
Boundaries are established for each zoning district. A municipality is divided into various types of districts that permit agricultural use, one-family residential use, two-family residential use, industrial use, business use, trailer camp and park use, or open-space use. Each municipality has its own system of classifying zoning districts. A residential use, for example, in one municipality may permit professionals or certain business offices to operate out of a home.
- Know about retroactivity
Zoning laws are not retroactive. A building in existence at the time a zoning law is adopted cannot be declared illegal. But if the illegal structure is destroyed, the owner may rebuild only in accordance with present zoning laws without substantially enlarging the building.
- Determine whether there is a variance on your property
A variance authorizes a landowner to use property in a manner forbidden by the zoning ordinance if the zoning creates particular difficulties or unnecessary hardships. The 2 categories are area variances and use variances. An area variance affects the size of the property, such as a 1-acre variance sought by a landowner who owns 1.9 acres and sells one lot, leaving him with 0.9 of an acre. A use variance affects how land can be used in a particular neighborhood, such as the use of property for a gasoline station in a residential neighborhood. An application for a use variance must show that the zoning law imposes an undue hardship.
- Know what’s involved for a change in use
For a change of use, the owner may be required to show a special hardship—that is, proof in the form of dollars and cents that the property does not yield a reasonable return. The owner-applicant is required to show that the land cannot yield a reasonable return if used only for the purpose allowed in that zone, the owner’s plight is due to unique circumstances and not to the general conditions in the neighborhood, and the use to be authorized by the variance will not alter the locality’s essential character. If your application for a variance is rejected, you may appeal to the courts.
- Make sure you’re not subject to unconstitutional zoning
Zoning regulations must be reasonable, uniform, and not unduly oppressive to landowners. If a zoning ordinance unreasonably restricts the uses of a district, it can be attacked as being unconstitutional. There must be specific damage, however, to bring such a lawsuit. Although a landowner does not have to own property actually situated within the zoned area, the land must be adversely affected by the zoning law. Zoning is constitutional if reasonable consideration has been given to the character of the district, its suitability for a particular use, the conservation of property values, and well-planned building development.
- Always check with an attorney
If you plan to alter property you are buying or to use it for a business, check with an attorney before signing the purchase contract to determine whether you will be walking into a zoning law problem.
Source: Robert Friedman, attorney and author of various legal guides. He an be reached at (716) 542-5444 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.