Zoning laws are designed to make a city or municipality a safer, effective, and more pleasant place to live and in which to do business. However, when these ordinances run afoul of a property owner’s intended use for a home, business, or another asset, this person may be forced to alter or abandon the property to avoid civil fines and penalties. When you want to retain ownership of your property without the fear of civil or even criminal consequences, you can petition the governing body in your area for zoning changes variances and more relief options that are available to you today.


One of the most common types of zoning relief available to you is a variance. A variance asks the government to allow your property to be used in a way that deviates from current zoning laws. It also gives you a waiver exempting your property from zoning ordinance requirements.

Variances are typically given to owners who would have difficulty utilizing the property for the stipulated zoning purposes. To apply for a variance yourself, you must pay the required filing fee and submit an application or petition to the government in writing.

Your application or petition will then go before the zoning board, which in turn may notify property owners close or adjacent to your property. You also may be required to appear at a public hearing to explain why you are requesting the variance. The governing body will then render a decision to approve or deny your petition.

Non-Conforming Use Exemption

Another option you have available to you involves seeking a non-conforming use exemption for your property. A non-conforming use exemption would allow your property to be used in a way that would otherwise run afoul of the current zoning ordinance.

Non-conforming use exemptions are typically granted to people who owned the property before the zoning ordinances were changed or implemented. The use of the property also must have been ongoing prior to the zoning laws enactment.

People who are given non-conforming use exemptions are typically said to have been grandfathered into the current zoning codes. Once you sell your property or stop using it for the purpose outlined in the non-conforming use exemption, this zoning relief will expire.

Conditional Use Permit

A conditional use permit is similar to a variance in that it allows your property to be used in a way that is not permitted by the current zoning laws. Like a variance, you must file the appropriate paperwork and pay the prescribed fee. You also may be required to appear before the governing board to explain your need for this type of zoning relief.

Conditional use permits are typically requested before a political body such as the city council or county board. They most often are given if the conditional use of the property would be in the best interest of the public.

Eminent Domain

Finally, your property may be subject to eminent domain and acquisition by the government. The city, county, state, or federal government can use eminent domain to acquire your property if it is needed to create:

  • public roads
  • government or public facilities
  • government buildings
  • public parks

It can also use eminent domain if your property is needed for the protection of:

  • wetlands
  • scenic areas
  • historic landmarks
  • wildlife or endangered species

The government can likewise use eminent domain to lay claim to your property if current zoning laws make it impossible for you to continue the intended use of it. Before it can use eminent domain to acquire your property, the government must compensate you fairly for it.

If it fails to render fair compensation or if it prohibits you from using your property for reasonable economic use, you could challenge the zoning law. The law demands that you retain fair access to your property unless the government renders payment for eminent domain of it.

You likewise must be given your 14th amendment Constitutional rights when challenging zoning ordinances that impact your property. The government must give you the opportunity to be heard in a meaningful way and at a meaningful time. You are entitled to due process under the law before the use or access to your property can be changed by zoning laws.

If you want to petition or challenge the zoning laws for your property, it is important that you understand the process. Depending on your particular situation, you may benefit from the advice and guidance of an attorney who specializes in property or land use law. Your lawyer can explain more about zoning changes variances and more options for relief that could help you retain full ownership and use of your property.

Zoning laws are designed to enhance and facilitate the best use of property within a city or governed area. When the laws run contrary to how you intend or have always used your own property, you have several options for obtaining zoning relief. To petition the government for any type of relief, however, you must know the proper procedure and timeline. You may achieve the most successful results by consulting with a lawyer who practices land use and property law.