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Does a zoning variance change the law?

Most land is divided up into zones by the city. For example, certain pieces of land may be zoned as residential, meaning they can only be used for homes and living spaces, while other areas are zoned as commercial, meaning they can be used for businesses. Still other areas are zoned for multi-use buildings; for example, you could have an apartment building with bars and shops on the ground floor.

If you want to use a building in a way that is different than the zoning requirements that are on the books, you'll need a zoning variance. There may be a fee that goes along with it, and it has to be officially approved before you can use the property as you wish. If it is, you can then begin use even though it technically breaks the regulations. For instance, you could start running a business out of a building that used to be a home.

It is important to note that the zoning laws have not been changed. If you get the variance, the laws on the books stay the same and others around you should not assume that they can also do what you are doing. For them, the zone remains as it always has been.

It's best to think of the variance as legal permission to break the rules. Those rules have been waived in this specific case. It doesn't mean they change for everyone or that you have permission to break the ordinance in any other area. Each variance must be considered and given out on a case-by-case basis.

It's very important to know the zoning rules whenever you're buying property or developing it. If you're thinking of applying for a variance in Arizona, you also need to know exactly what legal steps to follow.

Source: FIndLaw, "Zoning Changes, Variances, and More," accessed Aug. 25, 2016

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