Urban planners and government leaders are tasked with making a city a pleasant, safe, and practical place to live. They satisfy this important goal by using zoning ordinances to lay out the terms for which property throughout the city can be used.

When these laws compromise the manner in which you can live on or use your own plots of land, you can take advantage of several options for zoning relief that could exempt you from the ordinances. Before you pursue this relief, however, you should learn more about your options and how to use them to your advantage as a property owner.

Variances and Special Permits

One of the most common options for zoning relief involves asking the government for an exemption for your property. You may be eligible for such an exemption if you purchased the property prior to the zoning change. You likewise may be granted an exemption if the zoning change could negatively impact your use or ownership of the property.

If the government finds that your ownership and use of the property would not itself negatively impact the manner in which the new zoning change intends, it may grant you a lawful nonconforming use or continuing existing use exemption. This courtesy would allow you to continue living in, running a business on, or otherwise utilizing the property in your normal manner without fear of having to relocate, sell, or alter your ownership of it.

However, it the government finds that your ownership or use of the property would negatively impact the intended use under the new zoning laws, it may deny you the exemption. As such, before you petition the government for an exception to the ordinance, you may find it wise to retain an attorney who practices land use or zoning law. You can present your argument in a clear and assertive manner and better your chances of achieving your goal.

The government also has the option of granting you a variance or special permit for your property. A variance or special permit would allow the new zoning laws to take effect but exempt your property from being singled out for civil or criminal penalties for zoning violations.

To be granted a variance or special permit, you must prove that your property will not be a detriment to the district or neighborhood. You also may be asked to explain how the zoning change could inflict undue hardship on you as a property owner. Again, if you would like to pursue a variance or special permit, you may find it best to retain a lawyer before filing your petition.

Zoning Challenges

Another one of your options for zoning relief involves challenging the zoning ordinances that impact your property. A challenge is very much like filing a lawsuit against the city or government entity that changed the zoning laws for the area in which your property is located. Given the complexity and legalities for such challenges, you are encouraged to seek the help of a skilled zoning or land use attorney before taking action against the government.

Still, a challenge would allow you to demonstrate why the zoning ordinances directly and negatively impact you as a property owner. One argument you might use involves showing how the ordinance change goes against the city’s Master Plan.

A Master Plan is essentially a map of the city that outlines zoning factors agreed upon by urban planners and the government. Master Plans may be adopted voluntarily by the city. They also may be mandated by the state. Nonetheless, some of the facets that are frequently identified in a Master Plan include:

  • social factors
  • economic factors
  • current land use
  • future land use

If the ordinance changes for your property go against the spirit and goal of the Master Plan, you could have a solid case for your challenge.

Similarly, if you can prove that the government is restricting or prohibiting your economic use of your property, you could use the “takings” argument to challenge the zoning changes. This argument is actually based on the Takings Clause in the U.S. Constitution and demands that the government allow you fair economic use of your property. If it restricts or prohibits your use of your land, it must fairly compensate you.

If the government does not permit fair use or give sufficient compensation, you could use the Takings Clause to challenge the zoning changes to your property. You must be careful, however, that you preset strong evidence that the government is in violation of this clause.

Governmental regulations allow generous consideration for zoning changes that claim private property as part of Eminent Domain laws. If you want to use the “takings” argument to challenge the government, you are encouraged to retain legal counsel before filing your petition.

A lawyer that practices land use or zoning law can ensure that your 14th amendment rights are protected. The 14th amendment guarantees that you have the right to life, liberty, or property and that you are given due process with your challenge. You must by law be given the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and place. If the government violates your 14th amendment rights, you could file a lawsuit in court.

Zoning laws impact how you can live on or conduct business on your property. You have several options to seek relief from ordinances that negatively impact you as a property owner.