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Land Use, Zoning and Planning Law in Texas
Houston, Texas has laws which control 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 frequent issues that homeowners might face, though it is not meant to turn a layperson into an expert.
Local governments will normally divide the city or town into sections, called "zones," each of which is designated for a particular use, such as residential homes, commercial businesses, agriculture, manufacturing, etc. This process is known as "zoning."
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.
On the other hand, zoning laws recognize and attempt to accommodate the necessity of factories and other industrial activities. They simply seek to ensure that such activities are done in a way that they don't conflict with the rights of adjacent landowners to use and enjoy their property in peace.
What if My Property Violates Houston, Texas's Zoning Laws?
If a condition on your property violates the local zoning laws of Houston, Texas, there are a few different solutions.
It should be clear, however, that the ideal solution is to simply fix any condition on your property which is in violation of a local zoning law. If the violation is not serious, and correcting it won't substantially interfere with your use of your property, this is probably the best course of action.
However, it isn't always practical or affordable to correct a minor violation of a zoning law. For example, suppose you have just spent a large amount of money and effort remodeling a house to turn it into your dream home. You thought you were in total compliance with local zoning laws when you did this, but find out that there is some small, technical violation of Houston, Texas's zoning laws. In these cases, you have recourse in the form of a variance. You are entitled to petition the local zoning board to grant you a variance, which is an official decision not to apply a particular provision of a zoning law to a single violation. These aren't always granted, but typically have to be granted if the violation doesn't interfere with anyone else's use of their property, and doesn't thwart the purposes of local zoning laws.
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 Houston, Texas Attorney Help?
If you are in the early stages of a major construction or remodeling project on your property, especially if it is in a residential area (where zoning laws tend to be most restrictive), you are likely to face 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 help of a brilliant Houston, Texas real estate attorney will greatly improve one's chances.
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