Zoning laws are generally set by local governments and establish permissible uses for properties within certain areas. For instance, properties may be zoned commercial, industrial or residential and different behaviors and activities will be allowed in each different zone. Sometimes, however, the zoning rules for a particular area change over time as an area evolves. When this occurs, properties may be permitted to continue to persist in a behavior or activity they were doing prior to the zoning change or properties may be permitted to maintain their existing structure even if it would not currently be permitted. This is referred to as a "non-conforming use" since the property is legally permitted to be used for something that would not be permitted under current zoning regulations or to exist in a manner that would not otherwise be permitted.
Rules for Non-Conforming Use Properties
The rules for a non-conforming use can vary from location to location, since each local zoning board or zoning ordinance may have its own rules and regulations. In general, however, property or landowners will only be permitted to use or maintain a property that is non-conforming if they were already using the property in that manner before a zoning change or shift. For instance, if someone was using a building as a coffee shop before the zoning laws changed and prohibited commercial businesses in the area, the individual would be permitted to continue operating his coffee shop in his location and it would be considered a non-conforming use. However, a person who had not yet opened a coffee shop would not be eligible for a non-conforming use variance. In most case, this is true even if the person had been planning to open a coffee shop before the zoning laws changed.
In order to get a non-conforming use variance, you also must show that your previous use of the property was permitted under zoning laws at the time, and you must continue to use the property in the same manner. If it was never permitted for you to run a coffee shop, for example, then the fact you were illegally running one in violation of zoning laws would not entitle you to a non-conforming use zoning variance. Likewise, if you decided to close your coffee shop and open a bakery instead after the zoning rules changed, this would not be considered a non-conforming use because you would not be using the property in the same way as you were before the zoning rules changed.
Seeking a Non-Conforming Use Variance
If you are interested in using your property for a non-conforming use, you must be officially granted permission by the zoning board. You cannot simply continue to do the activity prohibited under the new zoning regulations unless you seek the variance and prove your eligibility. An experienced lawyer at Kurkowski Law who specializes in zoning and land use issues can help you to obtain this permission. Call us today to schedule a free consultation at (609) 884-1788.