Any time a homeowner plans a renovation project, there's usually a checklist of things to accomplish before the project can even start. One of the top things on the list is what the city and/or county zoning laws require for the neighborhood.
Every city has a set of zoning laws. The laws can be extensive and serve several purposes such as regulating overdevelopment, maintaining the character of a neighborhood, helping to attract new commerce to an area, and ensuring building or renovation projects are in compliance with the regulations set in place.
Examples of Zoning Laws
Zoning regulations run the gamut. While some project regulations are obvious, others are more obscure. For the most part, if the renovation project is to change the look of the home such as a room addition, a garage conversion, or a separate structure on the property, there will be zoning regulations to follow. For example, the installation of new fencing across the front of the property will most likely have a zoning regulation attached to it; there are usually rules for how high the fence may be running across the front of the property, in addition to other restrictions. If there is no preexisting fence, there may be a zoning regulation that none can be built or installed unless it previously existed.
In the case of a room addition, it will usually have to comply with the setback line of the property, meaning you can't build flush to the property line. There is a set number of feet that must be between the building, shed, garage, carport, etc. and the actual surveyed property line. This will be unique to your living area.
Altering the look of a home so that it no longer fits with the style of the neighborhood or no longer keeps with a historic nature may be problematic if you live in an area with laws regulating the appearance of homes.
Along with zoning regulations, there's also the requirement of building permits and inspections. Most renovations will require the appropriate permit issued by the city/county. Examples of when a building permit are required include adding a room or new roof, repairing electrical work, moving water lines, HVAC installation, adding or removing walls, or demolishing a portion of the home.
Like zoning regulations, you need to know what is required before starting the project. In the case of permits, those need to be acquired by either you or the contractor doing the electrical or plumbing work before the start of the project.
Checking the Requirements
The local building and code department for your city is where you begin to find out about zoning and permit requirements. Most cities have information easily accessible on the government website or you can visit the department and speak with a representative and outline your project to get the answers you need.
Beginning or completing a project without taking heed of zoning laws and without the proper permits can result in fines and the removal of whatever was built, which would be costly.
Keep in mind that a homeowner always has the option of requesting a zoning variance or waiver if the project is going to violate the zoning codes. The request is put before the zoning board with a hearing scheduled for the homeowner and contractor, if applicable. The surrounding neighbors may also be notified to provide input on the effects of the renovation, especially if the project changes the character of the neighborhood.