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What is a zoning variance?

If you’re buying or leasing a building to use for a commercial venture, you need to make sure that it is in the right zone. Your intentions for that space may not be allowed if it is not. The most common zones are residential, commercial and industrial, but you also have differences within them. For instance, each commercial zone may only allow certain types of businesses.

So what do you do if you find the ideal building and only realize later that it’s not in the right zone? Is there any way to keep your business idea alive, or do you have no choice but to move?

Getting a variance

In some cases, you can get a zoning variance, which allows you to use that property — and only that property — in a way that would not ordinarily be allowed. This can open up new doors for you and allow you to move forward with your plans. For instance, an old home that is in a residential area may be used as a CPA’s office or a lawyer’s office. You do see these types of uses from time to time, and it’s often because the building is in a mixed-use zone or because the person using it got a variance.

It is important to apply for the variance before you start using the building. If you didn’t know you were breaching the regulations, you can sometimes get a variance after the fact, but waiting puts your investment at risk. It’s wise to look into your legal options early so that you know how to proceed.