Could You Be Exempt from Zoning Restrictions?

Could You Be Exempt from Zoning Restrictions?

Improvements and non-conforming uses may be grandfathered in when they do not comply with zoning ordinances, making them exempt from restrictions that are enacted at a later date.

Commercial Zoning Ordinances and Restrictions

Non-conforming uses for a property are allowed to continue if they pre-date the zoning ordinance that governs restrictions. Local zoning restrictions apply to the construction of property improvements or uses that begin after the ordinance is in place. Non-conforming use is a legal term that applies when the existing land use does not comply with the zoning ordinance. This term can apply to the use of commercial property, such as a commercial building use in a residential zoning district, or other regulations that govern building height, property lines, and setbacks, and property amenities.

With commercial real estate properties, owners are required to conform to city zoning ordinances that may impact the design and size of a building during construction. In new construction, owners and builders must comply with city zoning ordinances to obtain necessary building permits and clearances. Improvements or changes to current structures are often restricted by local zoning ordinances as well, unless the owner completes improvements or changes before the zoning laws go into effect, in which case the owner becomes exempt. If improvements or changes are done after a zoning ordinance is in place, the owner may ask for a non-conforming use variance through the city. Most of these variances must be approved by the local government before they are issued.

Depending on state and local laws, non-conforming use zoning ordinances may restrict:

  • Building expansions
  • Building improvements
  • Utility upgrades
  • Tenant changes
  • Business use of the property

If a property is partially or totally destroyed, non-conforming use exemptions are not allowed for reconstruction.

To avoid zoning violations which can result in hefty fines, legal actions, and even destruction of the property, owners must pay close attention to local ordinances and non-conforming use variances. In some cases, special permits are available to avoid zoning violations. If a commercial property is in distress or in need of significant repairs, the city will usually consider the pros and cons of issuing a non-conforming use variance based on the specific situation. If an owner ignores zoning laws and engages in the intentional misuse of the property, the city will take legal action against the owner, which may result in the loss of the property or a change in how the owner is allowed to use the property.

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