Enforcing a Zoning Ordinance

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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If your neighbor is in violation of a local zoning ordinance, you might personally contact the property owner, and explain the zoning law to him. Hopefully this informal meeting will result in the neighbor revising his plans and conform to the ordinance. Maybe this was just an oversight, and he can easily abide by the local zoning laws. If this informal contact doesn’t change anything, and you are still dissatisfied, you can file a zoning complaint with the local zoning board. If you are not certain as to the appropriate steps in this process, talk to a local attorney familiar with the zoning laws, who can explain your available remedies and help you go through the zoning enforcement procedures.

Administrative Action Within the Local Zoning Board

One approach you might take is to report the violation to your local government by contacting the local zoning and planning office or the city attorney’s office. Get them involved to enforce the ordinance and take the necessary action against the non-conforming neighbor. In many jurisdictions, you may be required to file an official zoning complaint at the local zoning office to formally get the authorities involved. Whatever the process, approaching zoning officials with a thoroughly prepared and well-documented explanation of the zoning ordinance and its violation will provide them with the information they need to investigate the matter and take action to enforce the zoning ordinance against the violator.

Consider Going Public

Ideally, an oral complaint to your local zoning authority would be enough to report the violation and trigger an investigation. However, this is not always an effective way. In some cases, the zoning authority may not be compelled to take action simply because of your complaint, or may be slow in responding to it. If the zoning violation can have a widespread impact, you may want to consider taking the story to the local media and make the public aware of the ordinance violation. You should also seriously consider starting a petition drive so other voters and land owners can add support to your request for zoning enforcement. 

Pursuing A Legal Remedy

It’s possible that you have legal standing to file a lawsuit against the violator of the zoning ordinance. In order to pursue any available legal remedies offered by the court process, you will need to work with a local attorney familiar with zoning to make sure you properly follow all the necessary procedures to filing a claim. An attorney can help file the claim, negotiate a settlement, or argue your case for zoning enforcement in front of a judge should other zoning authorities fail to take proper action.

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