Land Use and Zoning Lawyers

Land use and zoning lawyers help clients navigate the often-confusing laws and regulations that govern the use of property. A lawyer can help you in a dispute over land use, getting permits for a new project, complying with local ordinances, and challenging local government over zoning laws.

What is a Land Use and Zoning Lawyer?

These are lawyers who specialize in laws regulating land use and zoning of property. Land use and zoning laws are usually set at the local level but may also include state or regional regulations. They dictate whether land can be used for residential, commercial, or industrial properties and other details such as building size, occupancy, lot size, and more.[1][2]

A land use and zoning lawyer usually represents businesses or individuals challenging their community’s zoning laws. Governments have the right to zone land but with limitations. Lawyers help their clients go to local appeals boards and even file lawsuits if they believe the government has overstepped its bounds.

Land use and zoning lawyers also help clients in an advisory capacity. They help companies stay in compliance with zoning laws, providing advice on what and how they can build or renovate properties on zoned land.

When Do I Need a Land Use and Zoning Lawyer?

Many people rely on land use and zoning lawyers to help with construction and real estate development projects, challenge local regulations, or get construction permits and remain in compliance with local laws and building ordinances. You may need a land use and zoning lawyer in the following situations:

  • You’re planning to build a new home or building for your business.
  • You are doing renovations on an existing property and don’t know the ordinances that apply or the permits you need.
  • You want to challenge a local zoning law that prohibits you from using your property the way you want.
  • You’ve challenged a zoning law and need representation for the hearing.
  • You’re interested in a variance, being allowed to make an exception to a zoning law.
  • A change in zoning laws will negatively affect your property value.
  • You believe you have been wrongly denied a special land use permit.
  • You’ve been accused of violating local zoning laws, but you believe it is in error.
  • You have a historical property and want to make changes to it.

Why Should I Hire a Land Use and Zoning Lawyer?

In the above situations and many others, you can choose to work alone or with a lawyer as your advocate. There are many good reasons to hire a land use and zoning lawyer rather than trying to face the problem alone:

  1. Avoid problems
    Problems can quickly derail real estate projects. Avoid these by starting with a lawyer who can ensure you follow local ordinances and guidelines and have the right permits. They’ll do the research before you start and get permits in place.
  2. Challenge unfair rules
    Local governments have a right to restrict land use, but they must balance those restrictions with individuals’ constitutional rights. If you believe your rights are being violated by a zoning law or ordinance, a lawyer knows how to help you challenge it.
  3. Get a variance
    The rules may be constitutionally sound, but that doesn’t mean you can’t successfully challenge them. Local governments are often willing to provide variances, exceptions to the rules. Your best chance of getting one is to work with an experienced lawyer.
  4. Protect your property value
    New construction and changes in zoning laws impact the properties around them. If a project near your property will devalue it, a lawyer can help you fight it and make sure you do not lose money and value.
  5. Succeed at a hearing
    Your battle against zoning laws may take you to a hearing in front of an appeals board or even a judge. You’ll need an experienced lawyer to represent you and give you the best chance of a successful outcome.

How to Choose a Land Use and Zoning Lawyer

Land use and zoning laws are highly specific to a location. You need a local lawyer who knows the rules, ordinances, and laws in your community. It should be a lawyer or a firm specializing in these cases and with experience in zoning cases.

If you know any contractors, real estate agents, or developers, they can be a great source for a referral. These professionals often work with legal teams on projects and can point you to a trusted lawyer or firm. Line up a few firms or attorneys and ask important questions so you can make the right choice of representation:

  • How much experience do you have with land use and zoning?
  • Do you have client referrals you can show me?
  • Do you see any issues with the project I’m planning?
  • Have you represented clients before the appeals board or a judge?
  • Do you think I have a good chance of a successful challenge, or am I wasting my time?
  • What are your fees?
  • How long do you think my case will take?
  • Who will be working on my case?

How to Work with Your Land Use and Zoning Lawyer

You will need to work together with your lawyer to get the best outcome. Provide them with all the information they need to give you good advice and to make your case if you are challenging local laws or seeking a variance.

Your lawyer will tell you what they need, which may include paperwork related to your property, communications with the city or building department, any permits you have, and your plans for a project. Be honest about everything and easy to get in touch with so that your lawyer can handle your case quickly and effectively.

A land use and zoning lawyer can be a great ally when you have to go up against your local government. The laws are in place for a reason, but there are often cases to make for exceptions and challenges.

  1. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Land Use.
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  2. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). Zoning.
    Retrieved from: