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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in California

The laws governing how land can and cannot be used in Kern County, California are fairly confusing, 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. Typically, 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 several 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.

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 several legal disputes that would be inevitable if they were closer to a residential area.

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

You have quite a few options if you find that a planned or current use of your property violates Kern County, California's zoning regulations.

First, and perhaps most apparently, you can correct the violation. If the violation is relatively minor, and correcting it would not cost you much or be a substantial burden, this might be the best way to go.

Of course, simply fixing a zoning violation isn't always inexpensive or easy, and may interfere with your planned use of your property. For example, you might have just undertaken a substantial remodeling of your home, and later found out that some small part of it technically doesn't conform to Kern County, 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 quite minor, and enforcing the ordinance would be unduly burdensome and not in the public interest.

Additionally, if you have been living 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 current 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 Kern County, California Attorney Help?

If you want to make improvements to your property, apply for a variance, or contest a zoning regulation as being applied to you retroactively, you have a right to do so, including some constitutional protections. However, your chances of prevailing in a zoning conflict will be markedly improved if you hire an efficient Kern County, California real estate attorney to help.

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