A Quick Look at Zoning Laws and Your Property Rights

Owning real estate comes with many rights. Unfortunately, however, not all a property owner’s rights are unfettered. Zoning regulations impose a number of restrictions on a person’s property.

A Little Bit About Zoning

Zoning laws can impose many restrictions on how property can be used. They also establish rules that must be followed, such as building heights and setbacks.

Zoning ordinances establish whether land can be used for industrial, commercial, agricultural or residential uses. Ordinances also dictate how land can be developed by restricting the density, building heights, parking, setbacks and other matters related to development. While zoning is delegated to local governments (i.e., municipalities and counties) the state can nevertheless impose procedures governing the exercise of the zoning power. An act of zoning by a local government is legislative in nature. In Georgia, the adoption of a zoning ordinance is presumed valid.

Zoning ordinances establish whether land shall be used for residential, commercial, agricultural or industrial purposes. Ordinances also dictate the way in which land can be developed by restricting the density, building heights, parking, setbacks and other matters related to development.

Zoning laws are very important, especially if a property owner intends to build on his land. In order to get a building permit, the property owner must meet all the zoning conditions.

However, not all zoning laws are final or inflexible. In cases where the strict zoning rules cannot be met, it may be possible to apply to the local government for a variance. For example, if a property owner wants to build a structure on his property but does not have enough room to meet the setback requirements, he may be able to get a variance that would allow him to still build the structure. There may be other options available such as applying for a “conditional use permit.” A conditional use permit allows you to use the land as you propose as long as you meet certain special conditions.

If a zoning law is overly restrictive, it can be subject to a legal challenge that the law amounts to a “taking.” In Georgia, whether government action amounts to a taking or not requires a balancing of the detriment to landowner against the benefit to the health, safety and welfare of the public.

While not always appropriate for every case, local zoning laws can be challenged either at the local planning board level or by appeal. If you believe your zoning law may be improperly interfering with your rights, consult experienced real estate counsel immediately.

Your Property Rights Are Important

If you need help with zoning regulations or any other real estate issue, contact us.  We are experienced real estate attorneys in Georgia. Our practice focuses only on real estate issues and litigation. We practice in one area of law, and we do it extremely well. To schedule your phone consultation, call us at: 770-888-7707.