Other Restrictions on Use of Real Property

Zoning

Zoning is a restriction on the ways you can use your property. New York gives zoning powers to local government authorities to make rules and regulations that restrict the way you use your property. In New York, zoning districts are usually identified by letter abbreviations, such as R (residential), C (commercial), and I (industrial).

Zoning is used as a way to control development and organize the use of space. The reasons for zoning restrictions are usually to promote health and morals, reduce traffic, provide heat, light, and air flow for residents, and keep people safe from fire and other dangers.

Local governments usually try to keep residential, commercial, and industrial or agricultural uses in separate areas. Zoning can affect the building height, building size, type of structure, etc. New York state and local governments also have regulations to preserve buildings in historic areas. These are called “landmark preservation districts,” and owners of properties in these areas may be restricted in their ability to alter the structure or appearance of the property.

Zoning can also control how far a building must be from the road or from a neighbors building. It can also control which types of businesses can be close to residences or schools, such as adult stores or medical marijuana dispensaries. Zoning ordinances can also control what happens on private residences, like how clean you keep your property or what types of vehicles you may store on it.

It is possible to obtain an exception from the zoning limitations, if you apply to the local government for a “variance.” Typically, you have to show that your proposed use will not harm any of the homes or businesses in the area. If you apply for a variance, the zoning board will hold a public hearing after giving notice to all neighboring property owners. The board will then decide whether to permit or deny the variance.

Nuisance

As an owner or occupier of land, you cannot use the property in a way that causes injury to others. If something on your property unreasonably annoys or disturbs another person in the use, possession, or enjoyment of that person’s property or that makes the ordinary use of the other person’s property uncomfortable, you may be liable for creating a “nuisance.”  Examples of a nuisance include barking dogs, bright lights, or business activities that cause bad odors or loud noises.

Anyone who is injured by a nuisance created by your use of your property can file a lawsuit against you. The lawsuit can seek money damages or an injunction, which is a court order forbidding you from engaging in the harmful activity.

Environmental Protection

Federal and state governments have passed laws to protect the environment which may affect your land or how you use it. These laws also cover who is responsible for cleaning up an environmental disaster or leakage of toxins into the ground.

Certain laws also protect the wetlands in New York. Wetlands are properties with groundwater on or near the surface of the land. If your property is on or near a designated wetland, you may have to obtain special permits from the state and/or federal government in order to make any improvements to your property.

Legal Editors: Jennifer Polovetsky and Steven Riker, July 2017 

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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