Suburban Neighborhood

What Are Zoning Laws And How Can They Affect You?

Sarah Sharkey3-minute read

December 10, 2020

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Zoning laws affect the fabric of our lives in a direct way. Although the patchwork of zoning regulations can be confusing at times, the goal of zoning laws is to structure cities and municipalities efficiently. 

Depending on where you live, zoning laws can affect you in different ways. Let’s take a closer look below.

Definition Of A Zoning Law

Zoning laws refer to specific rules and regulations for pieces of land divided into “zones” by the government or a municipality. A zoning law, or zoning ordinance, dictates acceptable methods of land use for real property inside zoning districts.

Essentially, zoning laws determine which types of properties can coexist in different areas of the city.

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How Zoning Laws Work

Zoning laws are made by branches of local government, municipal corporation, or a county. When an area is deemed a zoning district, there will be specific regulations on how a property owner can use the land within a zone.

For example, there may be a zone designated for a particular residential style, such as single-family homes. In another zoning district, there may be a commercial designation for businesses. Of course, there can be some zoning districts that allow for mixed use of both commercial and residential.

In the past, zoning has been viewed as a way to protect the integrity of the community. Many communities view zoning laws as a way to ensure that residents don’t have to deal with loud noise levels or high traffic areas. Plus, the zones can protect important natural and historical resources.

It is important to recognize that zoning laws are different from the rules made by homeowners associations (HOAs). Although the rules of an HOA can affect your property usage, the rules are not made by a local government.

Types Of Zoning Restrictions

Now that you know a little bit more about general zoning laws, let’s dive into the different types of zoning restrictions.

Residential

The residential dwelling units that people call home can look dramatically different throughout a municipality. With that, a local government will likely create several zones that encompass different types of dwellings. Here are a few types of housing units that can fall into a residential zone:

  • Single-family residences
  • Suburban homesteads
  • Apartments
  • Trailer parks
  • Co-ops
  • Condos
  • Home-based businesses

As you can see, the types of home within a residential zone can be very different. However, the zoning ordinance will determine common items that create a cohesive area. These include:

  • The number of, if any, animals allowed at the residence.
  • Encumbrances such as the number of structures allowed on the property.
  • The allowance of placements of manufactured homes.
  • Whether or not a multi-family home can be built on the property.

Commercial

Commercial zoning laws will affect businesses in a particular city. The types of units that often fall under commercial zoning laws include:

  • Office buildings
  • Shopping centers
  • Hotels
  • Nightclubs
  • Restaurants
  • Vacant land with the potential for business development

Although the types of businesses in a commercial zone will vary, the municipality will be able to set rules that include:

  • The proximity of certain business types to others
  • Parking availability
  • A maximum building height

Industrial

Industrial zones encompass businesses that work in an industrial capacity. You will often find large warehouses, loud manufacturing facilities, airports and storage facilities.

In most cases, these industrial zones are determined based on environmental factors such as loud noises or air quality. Typically, these zones are placed far from the residential sections of a municipality.

Historic

With older municipalities that have significant historical sections, a historic zone may be designated. The goal of this zoning strategy is usually to provide protection for these buildings.

Buildings with historical significance within this zone could be subject to tax deductions.

Agricultural

If a municipality has an agricultural industry, it may designate an agricultural zone. The goal is to protect farming communities and industries from the threat of sprawling urbanization. Within these districts, there are often restrictions on non-farm use of the land.

Bottom Line

If you are considering homeownership, your local area’s zoning regulations can greatly impact your property. Take some time to review the zoning regulations of your city and determine which area of town you’d like to live in.

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Sarah Sharkey

Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer that enjoys helping readers learn more about their finances. She has an MS in Business Management from the University of Florida. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram @adventurousadulting.