Variance or Spot Zoning in Real Estate

By: Rick LeForce

Often when a house is viewed and it has the word 'variance' on the legal description, it may be put aside as complicated or out of the ordinary. In fact, there is nothing complex about buying a home with a variance already in place (although there are sometimes complexities in obtaining a variance on a property.)

The only difference is that before you buy the home you need to examine the variance and ensure that it makes no difference to the way that you will want the house to function.

There are many ways to define the term variance. For instance, here are two definitions:

- Permission to do something that differs from the basic zoning requirement.

- Permission obtained from governmental zoning authorities to build a structure or conduct a use which is expressly prohibited by the current zoning laws; an exception from the zoning laws.

An example is a homeowner receiving special authorization to build a two-family house in a single family zoned area. Sometimes a variance will be requested for a more simple application, such as when a home owner wants to build a higher fence around his property.

However, application for a variance does not mean it will be accepted. In fact, usually a substantial hardship must be proved in order to receive a variance from the local municipality. This is because the rules of the local area were put in place for a reason, and uniformity is expected, so very few land-owners get permission to 'break' the rules.

A neighbor may object, and can object, to any variance you apply for. If his property (land) is adjoining yours and there is common property involved, then theoretically he may be affected by your variance. Adjoining owners have a legal right to be notified when a zoning variance or change in licensing in the common property is being formally considered. Their reasoning and wishes are considered along with yours.

If a neighbor feels that your case for a variance does not represent a true hardship, he could challenge the legality of it being granted. This all proves that a variance is not easy to arrange; therefore, if there is one on a property you are considering, leave it on until you are quite sure that you wish to change it back.

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