What Is A Variance In Real Estate? Why You Need It

A variance in real estate is an exception to local zoning laws that allows homeowners or investors to either develop or use their real estate in ways that are normally not allowed.

Variance in real estate must be requested from local zoning boards and are only awarded on a case-by-case basis.

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Image of property sale

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Why Do You Need A Variance In Real Estate?

Zoning laws are rules that regulate how properties in a certain area can be used, developed, or modified.

The laws are meant to protect the structure, development, and geographic integrity of the real estate in a community.

Zoning laws also help to maintain property values and prevent incompatible land uses.

However, zoning laws can also be restrictive and limit the options of property owners who want to make changes to their properties that do not conform to the zoning regulations.

For example, a property owner may want to build an extension, a fence, a shed, or a pool that exceeds the size, height, or setback limits imposed by the zoning laws.

Or a property owner may want to convert their residential property into a commercial or mixed-use property that is not allowed in their zoning district.

In such cases, a property owner may need a variance to obtain permission from the local zoning board to deviate from the zoning laws and proceed with their desired changes.

What Are The Types Of Variances In Real Estate?

There are two main types of variances in real estate: area variances and use variances.

Area Variance

An area variance allows property owners to make physical changes to their properties that violate the dimensional or quantitative standards of the zoning laws.

Examples of area variances include:

  • Building a structure closer to the property line, road, or neighbor than the zoning laws allow
  • When Building a structure that exceeds the height, size, or floor area ratio limits imposed by the zoning laws
  • Building a structure that reduces the open space, landscaping, or parking requirements of the zoning laws

Area variances are usually easier to obtain than use variances because they do not change the fundamental use of the property.

Use Variance

A use variance allows property owners to change the use of their properties that is prohibited by the zoning laws.

Examples of use variances include:

  • Converting a residential property into a commercial or mixed-use property
  • Operating a home-based business that is not permitted in the zoning district

Use variances are usually harder to obtain than area variances because they change the character of the neighborhood and may have negative impacts on traffic, noise, parking, or public services.

How To Apply For A Variance In Real Estate?

The process of applying for a variance in real estate may vary depending on the local zoning board and regulations.

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A property tax appeal lawyer with couple [PHOTO COURTESY OF DEVINE LAW]
However, some common steps include:

  • Checking the zoning laws and requirements for your property and your desired changes
  • Filing an application form and paying a fee to the local zoning board
  • Writing a letter explaining why you need a variance and how your request meets the criteria for granting a variance
  • Providing supporting documents such as site plans, surveys, drawings, photographs, or letters from neighbors
  • Notifying other affected property owners and inviting them to comment on your request
  • Attending a public hearing where you present your case and answer questions from the zoning board and the public
  • Waiting for the decision of the zoning board and complying with any conditions or limitations attached to your variance

What Are The Criteria For Granting A Variance In Real Estate?

The criteria for granting a variance in real estate may differ depending on the local zoning board and regulations.

However, some common criteria include:

  • Demonstrating that you have a hardship or practical difficulty that prevents you from complying with the zoning laws
  • Showing that your hardship is not self-created or due to your own actions
  • Proving that your variance will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or cause adverse effects on public health, safety, welfare, or environment
  • Establishing that your variance is the minimum necessary to alleviate your hardship and achieve your purpose
  • Ensuring that your variance is consistent with the comprehensive plan and the intent of the zoning laws

What Are The Benefits And Risks Of A Variance In Real Estate?

A variance in real estate can have both benefits and risks for property owners. Some of the benefits include:

  • Allowing you to customize your property according to your needs, preferences, or goals
  • Increasing your property value by adding more features, functions, or space
  • Enhancing your property appeal by improving its design, appearance, or style

Some of the risks include:

  • Facing opposition or objections from neighbors or other stakeholders who may disagree with your request
  • Spending time, money, and effort on preparing and submitting your application and attending hearings
  • Receiving denial or rejection from the zoning board or facing legal challenges from other parties
  • Having to comply with strict conditions or limitations imposed by the zoning board or the zoning laws
  • Losing your variance if you fail to use it within a certain period or violate its terms

Conclusion

A variance in real estate is an exception to local zoning laws that allows property owners to make changes to their properties that are normally not allowed.

Variance in real estate must be requested from the local zoning board and are only granted on a case-by-case basis.

There are two main types of variances in real estate: area variances and use variances.

The process and criteria for applying for a variance in real estate may vary depending on the local zoning board and regulations.

A variance in real estate can have both benefits and risks for property owners.

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