Featured News 2014 Commercial Leases and Zoning Problems

Commercial Leases and Zoning Problems

Zoning laws regulate not only what types of business you can build in which location, but they can also regulate parking spaces, signs, water quality, waste management, noise level, and so much more. In some communities, you may find that there are zoning laws for home businesses too. There could also be a limit to the types of business in a city, such as by deciding that there can only be a maximum of three coffeehouses within the city's borders. With these complex ordinances varying from district to district, here are some tips on how to keep out of trouble with zoning laws, and how to get out of trouble if you are met with unexpected zoning issues.

The thing is, you cannot go off of what the former proprietor has done. Just because they ran a similar business to yours, or did things a certain way, does not mean that this was in compliance with zoning law. The truth is, a new business will be watched more closely than an established business will. It could very well be that practices that violated zoning law were going under the radar, but if you, the new owner did the same, you could be told to move your business, still having to pay for a business space where you cannot actually do business. In other instances, a new law could have been made that will not go into effect until a new tenant takes over that place.

Now, it is not like zoning officials are constantly policing local businesses to ensure that everything is in compliance with zoning. The reason that a zoning official could approach you is usually that someone filed a complaint that there was a breach of zoning law. A simple way to smooth out these potential complications is to be on a friendly basis with your neighbors.

If despite your best laid plans, you run into trouble with zoning officials, or if the space you want to buy would be perfect for your business were it not for a couple of zoning ordinances, it is important to know that some zoning laws are stricter than others. Administrators often have the power to use their discretion when it comes to certain zoning laws and building codes.

For example, if you hire locally and are bringing good business to a city, officials for the city, country, or in the chamber of commerce could look favorably on your business and may want to work with you to keep you from moving your business to a different city. If you can talk with these officials and show them how your business would be good for the city, they may even help you in disputes with zoning officials. Another place you might find help for issues where there can be administrative discretion is with trade and merchants' associations. Local contractors and real estate attorneys can also help you, as they will not only know local laws, but the local officials.

If your area's planning commission issues an adverse decision against you, you still have options to negotiate with officials. You might be able to argue for a change in zoning or a wider interpretation of a law. You may even be able to ask for an exception (called a "variance"). This is where having local businesspeople and officials on your side can be invaluable.

For example, if a proprietor owns a bookshop next to a movie rental store that just went out of business, she may be eager to get a lease for the building so she can expand her shop. Unfortunately, officials tell her that she has to create ten additional parking spaces before she could get the permit she needs. She does not have the budget for this. In order to ask the planning commission for a variance to the parking space law, she recruits eager witnesses in local writers, educators, publishers, etc., witnesses who will expound on how the bigger shop would benefit the city. She would also demonstrate the exorbitant cost of obtaining or leasing these parking spaces, and says that she would validate at a nearby parking lot. She also works with an architect to plot how re-striping the spaces in a public parking structure near the shop would allow 20 additional cars to park there. Moreover, she offers to pay for the new striping job. This would likely get her the zoning exception she needs.

If something like this does not work out, however, you may need to go to court. Before you take this step, you will have to understand how this process could last years and cost you a great deal. Sometimes it is worth it. Sometimes, your case is straightforward enough that you can finish your case in court swiftly. For example, if you gave city officials your plans, and they clearly align with all the building regulations and safety codes, but you are denied a building permit unless you revise your plan in a way that is not mandated by law, you could get an order of "mandamus". But you would still have to consider your chances for success and the costs you would face if city officials appeal a court decision. Before you take a city to court, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced real estate attorney, someone who is qualified to represent you in such a specific matter of real estate law. Search our directory to find the real estate lawyer you need today!

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