Property owners have a large degree of control over the use of their property, but that control is not absolute. Among other restrictions, property owners in Maryland must comply with local zoning requirements. Uses that violate zoning laws can subject property owners to fines and other penalties, as well as the expense of making changes to conform to requirements.
Of course, it is not always clear when a use or proposed use meets the standards in effect for a particular zone. Moreover, it is possible to obtain a zoning variance or exception. Or a nonconforming use may be permitted because it has been “grandfathered in” under rules previously in force.
The bottom line is that the application of zoning and related property laws in Maryland can be quite complex. If you have a problem with a suspected zoning violation or have been accused of violating zoning regulations in Maryland, it is a good idea to consult a knowledgeable attorney for assistance before problems escalate to a costly stage.
Zoning Power is Delegated to Local Governments
Rules regarding the use of land are established at the local level in Maryland, which means that similar properties in close proximity may be regulated very differently if they sit in different counties or one is located in a city with its own zoning ordinances.
Most zoning standards are set and enforced by the counties within Maryland. However, they are established to comply with the Land Use Article of the Maryland Code.
Authorities May Grant Zoning Variances
When a landowner wants to use property in a way that does not comply exactly with zoning requirements, they may request a zoning variance. The requirements may involve density, bulk, area, or dimensional issues. Officials will consider whether there is a condition unique to the particular property that makes it impractical to enforce requirements exactly, or that would cause undue hardship if the rules were strictly adhered to.
If a variance interferes with the use of enjoyment of neighboring properties, disputes can quickly escalate. An attorney may be able to negotiate a resolution that satisfies all parties, but if not, an affected landowner may be able to contest the variance or file a civil lawsuit.
Conditional Use or Special Exception
When authorities grant a use outside of the zoning restrictions but one that can only be exercised in specific conditions, that is known as a conditional use or special exception in Maryland. The special usage is only supposed to be authorized if it does not have an “adverse effect” on surrounding properties.
Landowners in the vicinity have the right to file a lawsuit if they believe a special exception will have or is having an adverse effect on their property. However, determining what exactly constitutes an adverse effect can be subject to debate. At least one court has held that the effect complained of must involve a physical condition such as noise, fumes, or excessive dust.
Prompt Action Can Keep Zoning Disputes from Escalating
Zoning disputes often stem from misunderstandings about legal requirements or expectations for property use. Often a strategic meeting can help parties understand what rights they do and don’t have and help them find mutually acceptable resolutions outside of court. However, when discussion or negotiation fails to settle a dispute, the matter can be taken to a judge for a decision.
To achieve your goals with as little expense and delay as possible, it is wise to discuss matters with a zoning disputes attorney as soon as questions or conflicts arise. An attorney can provide advice on securing your rights early on in case the process requires resolution in court.
If you have concerns about zoning issues in Maryland, the team at Ralph W. Powers, Jr. P.C. is ready to assist. Just contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.