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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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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Zoning is a restriction on the way land within its jurisdiction can be used. Through community planning and development, zoning laws help local governmental agencies preserve property values and ensure communities are functional and safe places. Without zoning, a gun store could open up next to a school, an adult club could operate near a playground, and a busy store could maintain its business on your residential street. Through zoning restrictions, activities by these establishments are not allowed and these violaters would suffer major consequences for their noncompliance. 

Understanding Zoning Laws

The government, usually a local municipality, town, or township sets the zoning rules and regulations for their specific locality. Typically, the agencies divide their jurisdictions into zones, classified by particular types of land use. For instance, one area might be zoned for residential use, another nearby for commercial use, one on the outskirts of a city for commercial use, and one for agricultural use to raise livestock. And hybrid zones may also exist within these broad categories. Some residential areas might allow only single family homes, while others may also include apartments and townhouses.

Complying With Local Zoning Laws

The property owner must comply with the local zoning laws. For instance, if the owner buys a house for his residence, he can’t raise pet goats and llamas in that area unless it is zoned for that, like an agricultural zone. If the property owner wishes to use his land in a way that does not comply with the stated requirements of the zoning laws for that piece of property, the owner must be granted an exception (often called a special use permit) by first filing an application with the local board and getting neighborhood approval.

Sometimes zoning of a given area can also change. In such instances, those who owned property before the change took place are generally “grandfathered” in under the local zoning ordinance, and allowed to keep using the property for the same purpose though that use doesn’t comply with the new zoning rules.