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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Florida

The laws controlling how land can and cannot be used in Palm Beach County, Florida are fairly complicated, and can be confusing to laypersons. This should provide a basic overview.

Localities normally divide their jurisdictions into segments, referred to as "zones," on which particular types of use are permitted. For instance, one area of a town might be zoned for residential use, a nearby one for commercial use, and areas on the outskirts zoned for industrial use. This practice is called "zoning."

Zoning serves various different purposes - but it its major one is to increase or preserve property values by ensuring that conflicting uses don't result in legal disputes. Obviously, if you bought a house in a residential neighborhood, and your neighbor could just convert his property into a steel mill, your property's value as a residential lot would decrease considerably.

Zoning laws don't exist just to protect residential use - it also protects persons 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 preventing legal disputes.

What if My Property Violates Palm Beach County, Florida's Zoning Laws?

Zoning laws are frequently quite extensive and meticulous, and it's quite possible that your property in Palm Beach County, Florida contains some minor zoning violation that you don't know about. If this happens to you, you have substantial legal protections.

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

What if, however, you've invested a substantial 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 typically 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 Palm Beach County, Florida's zoning laws, a variance will typically be granted.

Moreover, zoning ordinances cannot be applied against you retroactively. For instance, suppose you built a 3-story house on your property, and your property was zoned to allow 3-story houses to be built at the time of construction. And then, years later, the area you reside in is re-zoned, to only allow 2-story houses. Can the local government force you to remove a whole level of your house? Of course not. Applying a law retroactively is unconstitutional. On the other hand, any future changes you want to make to your property will have to comply with the applicable zoning ordinance as it is currently written.

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How Can a Palm Beach County, Florida 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 Palm Beach County, Florida real estate attorney to help.

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