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What homeowners need to know about land use and zoning laws

Congratulations, you purchased a home and the land that it sits on. It's yours to do whatever you'd like with, right? Not so fast. Land use and zoning laws could limit your options.

Land use and zoning laws are in place in most major urban and suburban areas in the U.S. in effort to maintain order and protect the environment.

Have you ever noticed how urban and suburban areas are generally divided into residential areas, business areas and industrial areas? That's not just coincidence; it's the result of planning and zoning regulations.

Land use and zoning regulations at the local level also lay out how land owners can use their property. Here are a few examples of restrictions that many municipalities have on the books:

Urban farming

Nearly every local jurisdiction has its own zoning laws regarding urban farming, which has become a growing trend in recent years. The local zoning laws address policies such as how many animals land owners can have on their properties, noise, safety and cleanliness, as well as permitting that may be required.

There are also rules in place for commercial farming, which apply to farmers who planning on raising crops or animals to sell.

Attractive nuisances

Local ordinances also govern attractive nuisance laws. An attractive nuisance is any manmade or natural structure on private property that could attract children, who could be injured after trespassing. An example of an attractive nuisance ordinance is one that requires homeowners to erect fences around swimming pools.

Accessory dwellings

Another common issue that is addressed in local land use and zoning regulations is accessory dwellings. Sometimes called mother-in-law suites, these are separate living structures that are constructed in addition to an existing home on a property.

There are typically strict policies in place regarding accessory dwellings, and most municipalities require a permit before the construction of the building can begin.

Home additions

Before having an architect draw up plans for a residential addition to a single family home, make sure to look at the local zoning ordinances that are in place. Not only will they state what kind of permit may be required, they also set the groundwork for new additions.

For example, there may be rules on the maximum square footage that can be added, how high the addition can stand and how close the addition can be to the roadway.

Can homeowners just ignore land use and zoning laws?

There is no doubt that land use and zoning regulations can cause headaches for land owners, who just want to enjoy their own private property.

However, simply ignoring local land use and zoning ordinances is not a good idea as it can lead to large fines and even lawsuits. In many cases, local municipalities will impose daily fines on violators, and if the violation is serious enough and the public is put at risk, legal action could be taken.

The best option is to research the local rules and regulations ahead of time to make sure that the proper steps and precautions are followed.

If land use or zoning rules stand in the way of a homeowner's goals, then it would be a good idea to meet with a land use and zoning lawyer, who may be able to ask for a variance on the homeowner's behalf.

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San Marcos, TX 78666

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