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Attorney Arie Lipinski

Common types of zoning disputes

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2024 | Land Use And Property Rights

Zoning disputes occur when property owners or developers disagree with a local government about how a specific piece of land should be used.

How does zoning work?

Local governments divide land into different zones. Land can only be used in certain ways depending on how it is zoned.

For example, land can be zoned to be used for commercial use, residential use, industrial use or even to be left as open space. As a property owner or developer, you must comply with the zoning requirements, which are enacted through local laws and ordinances.

Zoning ordinances can sometimes be quite specific. In addition to complying with the general concept of how the land can be used, you might be required to follow restrictions involving building sizes or what kind of activities are permitted.

As you can imagine, disagreements may arise about these regulations. Here are some common types of zoning disputes.

Nonconforming use

Regulations can change even while you are already using the property. If you continue to use the property in a way that is no longer allowed, this is called nonconforming use.

You can obtain a legal nonconforming use certificate if you meet certain requirements and file a petition.

You must show that the nonconforming use was not a public safety or health violation and that you have not have any other violations involving the property. The nonconforming use must also have existed since prior to April 1, 1969.

Building code violations and setback ordinances

Building code violations are another common type of zoning dispute. This happens when you build a structure that does not meet the building code requirements. The violations can be minor, such as using the wrong type of wiring, or major, such as not having proper security in place.

Setback ordinances are zoning ordinances that specify how far back a building must be from the street or other property lines. Building a property that is too close to the street or structures can violate a zoning ordinance and cause a dispute.

The reasoning behind setback ordinances is typically to ensure that a building does not interrupt a neighbor’s use and enjoyment of their property or for safety reasons.

Land use

Disputes over the use of land are frequently the subject of zoning disputes. If you are a builder or developer, you might want to build a high-rise building on a plot of land only designed for single-story properties.

Variances are generally used to resolve zoning disputes. Local governments can grant variances to permit builders or property owners to use their land in a way contrary to the zoning laws.

However, a granted variance can result in additional zoning disputes, if neighbors do not agree with the exception that was granted.

Resolution can take time and effort

Resolving zoning disputes requires listening to each side’s issue with the proposed use of the land and coming to a resolution that is fair to everyone involved. This can involve bringing in land use professionals such as engineers and surveyors.

Additionally, both property owners and local governments should understand the zoning process to avoid disputes.