Many property owners do not give zoning ordinances a second thought after they buy their homes, businesses, or plots of land. They continue with their normal lives until these ordinances somehow impact their ownership and use of their property.
When land use and zoning practices threaten your home, business, or investment, you have several options for recourse available to you. Before you take action against urban planners or government entities in charge of these ordinances, you should learn more about zoning laws and how they can be accommodated or bypassed to benefit you as a property owner.
The Basis for Zoning Laws
Cities and municipalities are granted the right to create and enforce zoning laws as part of their police power. Police power itself is typically extended by the state or some other governing entity that ranks higher than the city or municipality. This power exists to ensure a community's:
- general welfare
The laws cordon the city into districts that are reserved for commercial, residential, industrial, and other uses. They are designed to make a city more pleasant to live in and also safeguard residents from proximity or exposure to elements that could compromise the quality of their everyday lives.
However, in order for these laws to be enacted, authorities must give the public a fair chance to learn about and dispute the proposed zoning ordinances. The state likewise may base or alter a city or municipality's police power for them on factors like:
- population studies
- land use patterns
- public notice
- the holding of public hearings
If the proposed ordinances violate or disregard any of these factors, you could have a legal basis to challenge the zoning laws or request a change to the land use and zoning practices outlined for your property.
Zoning Law Challenges
One of the most common ways that property owners challenge zoning laws involves proving that they did not receive an adequate opportunity to learn about the proposed changes. In essence, they did not receive sufficient notice or were not given the chance to attend a public hearing on the zoning laws.
If you can successfully prove that you did not receive notice or have the chance to attend the hearing, you could win your challenge and have the ordinance for your property invalidated. Likewise, if you can prove the planners or government leaders made the proposed changes to your property without due cause or reason or with malice or capriciousness, you could likewise have the zoning ordinance reversed.
Finally, you could base your challenge to the zoning changes based on the government's restriction of your access to your property. By law, the city or municipality must allow you fair access to your property or monetarily compensate you for it. If you can prove that you were not fairly compensated for your property loss or that the government restricted fair economic use of it, you could have the ordinances for zoning invalidated.
Permits and Variances
If the government rules against your case or if you want to avoid a challenge to the zoning laws for your property, you could seek a variance or special permit for its use. A variance or special permit would allow you to continue using your property as normal without the fear of being fined or penalized by the city or municipality. It likewise would save you from having to sell or relocate your home or business.
You may be granted a variance if you can prove that the zoning change causes you undue hardship as a property owner. Being able to prove undue hardship could lead to you being given an area or use variance. If you are given an area variance, the government is acknowledging that your property has a physical abnormality that prevents you from altering its shape, function, or appearance.
If you are granted a use variance, you are exempt from having to change the way that you utilize your property. For example, if you run a catering business in your home in an area that is zoned for residential use, the use variance would allow you to continue your business's operations as long as it does not negatively impact the rest of the zoned area. If the manner in which you use your property compromises the integrity, safety, function, or appearance of the area, your variance may be denied.
Finally, you may be given a special permit for your property if your proposal for it does not contradict or compromise the zoned area. For example, if you want to build or maintain a church in an area zoned for residential use, you may be given a special permit. Likewise, if you build an extended stay hotel in a commercial area, you may be given a special permit since the proposed housing itself would be a type of business.
Knowing what type of action to take to challenge or dispute zoning laws affecting your property can be confusing. When you want to make your contention known, you may enjoy the most success by retaining a lawyer who practices real estate or land use law. An attorney familiar with zoning laws for your area could help you create a challenge or petition to have ordinances invalidated, adapted to, or changed to benefit you as a property owner.