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What is a variance?

Let’s imagine you are looking for property to develop, and you plan to build a nice big home on the land. You find the perfect spot with the perfect views, and you purchase the property.

In many cases, signing the purchase agreement is pretty much the end of the legal process. In other cases, legal woes erupt if you learn the land you purchased is not zoned for residential use. In these situations, you may need to work with an attorney to request a variance.

A variance allows property owners to use land in a way that is not currently permitted. For instance, if property is zoned for commercial use, a variance essentially allows the property owner to waive the requirements of commercial zoning and use it for something else, like residential space.

Variances are not easy to secure. In fact, a family in another state right now has taken their dispute involving a denied variance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to reports, the family inherited two parcels of land that are now legally considered one unit as a result of changes in regulations over time. Their plan to sell the second parcel of land was squashed when they learned the government would not allow them to sell a portion of contiguous land owned by the same party.

They requested a variance, which would allow them to deviate from the restrictions imposed by the regulations and sell the second parcel. Unfortunately, their request was denied. The Supreme Court has yet to make a ruling on whether the land should be considered separate or not.

This case should serve as a reminder to residents in California that laws change over time, and land purchased a long time ago may be zoned differently today. This can create serious complications and considerable confusion when the time comes to sell, develop or lease out land.

Property ownership can be far more complicated than you might expect, especially when issues like zoning disputes arise. Because of this, it can be crucial that you work with an attorney as you navigate any real estate transaction or request.

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