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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Pennsylvania

Plum, Pennsylvania has laws which govern how individual parcels of land can be used, and how they cannot. These rules aren't always simple, and this article should serve as an introduction to some of the most common issues that homeowners might face, though it is not meant to turn a layperson into an expert.

"Zoning" is the process by which a local government makes laws determining how individual pieces of land within its jurisdiction can be used. Usually, towns or cities are segmented off into "zones," each one being designated for a specific type of use. Examples of typical zoning categories are single family residence, commercial, multi-unit housing, or industrial.

The purpose of zoning is to preserve property values, and make towns and cities more livable. For instance, without zoning laws, a company might be able to purchase a vacant lot next to your house and build a noisy, smelly, dirty factory on it.

While zoning laws appear to be geared just toward protecting residents, they also protect industry, by ensuring that they are free to conduct their business without getting caught up in the various legal disputes that would be inevitable if they were closer to a residential area.

What if My Property Violates Plum, Pennsylvania's Zoning Laws?

You have quite a few options if you find that a planned or prevailing use of your property breaks Plum, Pennsylvania's zoning regulations.

It should be clear, however, that the ideal solution is to just fix any condition on your property which is in violation of a local zoning law. If the violation is not significant, and correcting it won't significantly interfere with your use of your property, this is likely the ideal course of action.

What if, however, you've invested a significant amount of time and money into making an improvement on your property, only to find that it breaks your local zoning laws in some minor way? In this case, you can apply for a variance. This is essentially an exception to the zoning rules. If declining to enforce these rules would not harm anyone, and would not do much to advance the purpose of Plum, Pennsylvania's zoning laws, a variance will usually be granted.

Moreover, if you have been residing on your property for a long time, and made improvements on it that complied with the zoning laws in effect at the time, a new zoning law that would be violated by your prevailing use of your property, the new law cannot be enforced against you. The U.S. Constitution bars the passage of "ex post facto," or retroactive, laws. Once the laws take effect, however, you'll have to comply with the new zoning laws with respect to any new improvements you want to make on your property.

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How Can a Plum, Pennsylvania Attorney Help?

If you are in the early stages of a major construction or remodeling project on your property, particularly if it is in a residential area (where zoning laws tend to be most restrictive), you are likely to encounter one zoning law issue or another. Of course, having read this article, you should now be aware that you have rights when it comes to contesting a zoning law as applied to you. While such contests do not always come out on the side of the landowner, the assistance of a reputable Plum, Pennsylvania real estate attorney will greatly improve one's chances.

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