In Maryland and many other states, purchasing and owning real estate can be a complex endeavor. Just because you own a property, regardless of if it is residential or commercial, does not qualify you to do whatever you wish. States, cities, and local municipalities have specific zoning laws that are used to classify properties and govern what can and cannot be done on them. Unfortunately, this can cause disagreements between the two parties, also known as zoning disputes, and may require careful negotiations to resolve.
It is important to know basic zoning laws when purchasing or owning real estate. Zoning essentially classifies properties and their usage into different types. The major classifications are residential for homes, commercial for businesses, industrial for factories or buildings that need special considerations, and agricultural and recreational. There are also classifications for historic buildings. Each classification has subdivisions within them, such as different housing types, like single-family within the residential classification.
States have zoning laws and statutes while cities have ordinances, which are similar to laws but carry less weight. In a zoning dispute, state law would overcome a city ordinance. Zoning laws are important for city and county planning, making sure that certain properties are not next to each other, such as an industrial factory next to a school, and so forth. Zoning is essential for the safety of the community and ensuring a good quality of life.
However, it is common for zoning disputes to arise over how properties are being used. For example, a community could protest when a new property is being used to build commercial buildings instead of condos or apartments. A business could be fined for having a sign too high. Another instance can be when two homeowners disagreeing over property lines.
Zoning disputes can happen for many different reasons. Common zoning disputes generally fall within these categories:
- Variance requests: A variance request is when a property owner petitions the zoning authority to make an exception to the zoning laws, such as planning to use the property for something other than that for which it is zoned. When a variance request goes out, then neighboring property owners are notified of the request, and a dispute may arise if they disagree with the proposal.
- Nonconforming use: This occurs when a property owner develops on the property that does not comply with local zoning ordinances, either willingly disregarding them, or they were not aware of the ordinances. A nonconforming use dispute are often brought on by local officials enforcing the zoning ordinance but can also be initiated by neighboring property owners as well.
- Building restrictions: Zoning laws allow for only certain sizes of a building and how many buildings can be on a given property.
- Occupancy violations: Local zoning ordinances restrict the amount of people that occupy a certain building or residence.
- Buffer disputes: Zoning ordinances are also used to determine the distance between buildings on a property and their property lines, as well as other items, such as how far a shed can be from a property line, and so forth.
Often, zoning disputes may involve two property owners with neighboring properties, a community and business, or a business in a dispute with the local authorities. Some common scenarios of zoning disputes include:
- A shed or fence installed too close to a neighboring property.
- Location of property lines between houses or residential buildings.
- Air or noise pollution caused by nearby industrial or agricultural properties.
- Commercial signs or billboards cluttering a neighborhood.
- Disputes over new construction and its impact on the quality of life for the community.
- A commercial property’s parking lot is too close to a residential area.
- The views of residential owners are obstructed by commercial buildings that are too tall.
How Do I Resolve a Zoning Dispute?
When a property owner wants to develop on a land that is not zoned to their needs, a zoning appeal will be required. In Maryland, this is normally a public hearing with the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals. Any individual who has a concern in the matter can voice their viewpoint at the hearing.
For small neighbor disagreements over property lines, the first step to resolve the dispute is to file a claim with the appropriate city or local officials. Generally, this may call for the two parties to resolve the matter themselves, but if that is not possible, then the government will intervene. In a zoning lawsuit, which are at times filed as a class action lawsuit when groups of the population are affected, the courts may order one or more parties to cease activity.
If you need to attend a zoning appeal in Maryland, there are some steps you could take to voice your concerns. Remember that each situation is different and has their own unique challenges:
- Go through the property’s zoning code carefully and check if the use is legal.
- Determine what action is required, such as a change in the code or an exception.
- Find out what date a hearing related to your application will be held and if you need to post a notice on the property.
- Create a list of items that you would like the zoning board to consider.
- Keep the records of all the details you submit to the board, including any drawings or written information.
- Hire a real estate lawyer and discuss your concerns, as they may be able to put you on the right track or go over the best solution.
- If an agreement is reached with another party, ensure that the agreement is in writing and reviewed by the before signing.
- If necessary, you may attend a hearing at the city hall. Before then, make sure you understand the hearing’s requirements and procedures. You can also have community members who share your concerns attend as well.
- Make sure to have evidence like photographs or documents that show your concern and submit your written testimony for the record.
- If a city hall member or council member agrees with you, you can request that they testify with the Board.
- If you do not succeed with the Board, then you may have to file an appeal with the courts. At this point, it is best to discuss your options with your lawyer.
Hunt Valley Real Estate Litigation Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Help Clients Involved in Zoning Disputes
A zoning dispute can be a complicated process, and you likely need the services of an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process. One of our dedicated Hunt Valley real estate litigation lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC can help you. Call us at 443-589-0150 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. With offices in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we proudly serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, and Howard County.