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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Fairfield, California are fairly difficult, and can be confusing to laypersons. This should provide a basic overview.

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

Local governments have many different reasons for enacting zoning laws, ranging from ensuring that residential areas are peaceful and quiet, to protecting property values. For example, most people wouldn't buy a home in a neighborhood where they knew it was possible for a neighbor to turn their house into a factory.

Zoning laws don't exist just to protect residential use - it also protects individuals who engage in other types of use of land, by making sure that they are able to do their business, without bothering neighboring landowners, and thereby avoiding legal disputes.

What if My Property Violates Fairfield, California's Zoning Laws?

Suppose you find that some condition on your land is in violation of Fairfield, California's zoning laws. In cases like this, you have quite a few options.

First of all, and most simply, the owner could just fix the violation. If the violation isn't very considerable, and fixing it wouldn't cost very much, this is probably the best and easiest option.

Of course, simply fixing a zoning violation isn't always modest or easy, and may interfere with your planned use of your property. For example, you might have just undertaken a considerable remodeling of your home, and later found out that some small part of it technically doesn't conform to Fairfield, California's zoning laws. If this happens to you, you can apply to your local zoning board for what's known as a "variance." This is simply a decree by the zoning board that the particular rule your property violates no longer applies. The Supreme Court has held that local zoning boards have to grant variances when the violation is extremely minor, and enforcing the ordinance would be unduly burdensome and not in the public interest.

You also have considerable protections if a zoning law changes, and you find that the land you've been living on for years is suddenly in violation of the new law. In general, zoning laws cannot apply to structures and uses which were built or commenced before the law was changed. Under the U.S. Constitution, it's not permissible for state or local governments to pass laws which have retroactive effect. You should know, however, that any future changes you make to your property will have to comply with the new zoning law.

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How Can a Fairfield, California Attorney Help?

If you suddenly become involved in a zoning dispute with your local government, it's necessary to seek competent legal representation. The counsel of an accomplished Fairfield, California real estate attorney can make it much easier for you to act within the law to use your own property as you wish, or at least be as free as possible to make improvements to your land.

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