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What is Land Use and Zoning Law?

Definition of Land Use and Zoning Laws

Land use and zoning law is the regulation of the use and development of public and private real estate. Zoning is the most common form of land-use regulation, used by municipalities to control local property development. Other legal issues pertaining to land use include easements, trespassing, and eminent domain.

Zoning regulations typically divide a municipality (such as a city) into residential, commercial, and industrial zones. Thus, zoning laws are intended to maintain a level of order and efficiency within a municipality, while keeping each zone optimized for its intended purpose. For example, zoning laws reassure home owners that a factory or department store will not open across the street. Zoning laws also regulate specific requirements for the types of buildings allowed in each zone (height restrictions, etc.), location of utility lines, parking requirements, and other regulations.

An easement is a limited, non-ownership interest in another party's property. For instance, one party may obtain an easement to gain legal access to their neighbor's driveway if that is the only way to access their house. When the government seizes property to build a freeway or a park, for instance, it invokes eminent domain law. The government entity must give the property owner fair compensation. The crime of trespassing occurs when an individual enters another's property without consent.

Terms to Know

  • Taking: A seizure of private property or a substantial deprivation of the right to its free use or enjoyment, caused by government action, often via eminent domain.
  • Adverse Possession: Actual possession of another's real property that is open, hostile, exclusive, continuous, and adverse to the claim of the owner, often under a claim of right or color of title.
  • Implied Easement: An easement that is created by operation of law when an owner severs property into two parcels in such a way that an already existing, obvious, and continuous use of one parcel (as for access) is necessary for the reasonable enjoyment of the other parcel.

Working with an Attorney for Land Use or Zoning Issues

Depending on the land use issue, you may want to work with an attorney who practices real estate or municipal law. If you are challenging an eminent domain claim by the city, your attorney may take a close look at the municipality's "public use" claim to make sure it's valid. If you are looking for a new location for your company's headquarters, your legal counsel probably would research the zoning laws of each prospective location.

However, there are lawyers who specialize in land use and zoning law, and may work with a variety of clients (such as municipalities, businesses, and private citizens).

Consider speaking with a land use and zoning lawyer in your area if you have additional questions or need help with a particular legal matter.

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