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Real Estate – Neighborhood Disputes: What Grandfathered Means in Real Estate in MA
In the interest of doing what is best for communities, in terms of public health and safety and city planning, the state and local municipalities often put in place zoning regulations to govern how land in certain areas may be used ( i.e. a building’s height, lot size, and setback, or whether it can be used for residential, commercial or industrial purposes). These zoning regulations are constantly being changed and updated over the years, resulting in many structures and uses that are deemed “grandfathered”.
You have to be sure that anything you do with a grandfathered structure or parcel of land or use thereof complies with state and local zoning regulations, or you may face unforeseen and unwanted consequences. If you have a legal matter regarding a grandfathered use or structure in Massachusetts, The Law Offices Of Richard Mucci can help. Call us at 781-729-3999 to discuss your situation.
What Does Grandfathered Mean?
When an existing structure, parcel of land, or use thereof no longer conforms with current zoning or building regulations, it is classified as nonconforming by the government. A lawful nonconforming structure, parcel of land, or use is one that complied with the existing zoning and building regulations at the time that it was established, but due to subsequent changes in those regulations, no longer conforms.
A lawful nonconforming land use may usually continue unaltered under certain provisions. This is commonly referred to as the land use being ‘grandfathered’ in. Most lawful pre-existing structures, parcels of land, or uses in Massachusetts are automatically grandfathered in, but will only retain this status provided that they are NOT:
- Extended or expanded upon or structurally altered, or used for a purpose other than the originally permitted purpose, or for the same purpose but in a different way; or
- Unused, abandoned, destroyed, or discontinued for two or more years.
Any changes to a grandfathered structure, parcel of land, or use without the approval of the local zoning authority may jeopardize its grandfathered status.
What Does All This Mean For You?
As mentioned above, zoning codes are often changed to address urban problems and to make the municipality better. But, just because the municipality decides to change the zoning code doesn’t mean the municipality can take away your pre-existing property rights.
So, for example, if you own a lawfully built two-family dwelling (a duplex) in an area that is now zoned for only single-family dwellings, you can usually keep it as a two-family dwelling. Similarly, if you buy a commercial office building that sits in an area that is now zoned for residential use only, you can continue to use it as an office building, as long as it was built when the area permitted commercial uses.
Under Massachusetts law, a grandfathered structure, parcel of land, or use may usually continue unaltered until its economic life or usefulness has come to the end. However, this grandfathered status can be lost prematurely if you extend, expand, or otherwise substantially alter the structure or parcel of land or the purpose for which it is used, at which point, it may have to be replaced or changed to comply with existing zoning regulations.
So, whether you want to build on a nonconforming lot, add an extension to an existing nonconforming structure, or change how a nonconforming structure or parcel of land is being used, you should first consult with an experienced real estate lawyer.
The Law Offices Of Richard Mucci
How you handle a nonconforming land use must comply with be a state and local zoning regulations and will typically require research into the previous zoning regulations and a review by the local zoning authority to determine its impact on the community. The real estate lawyers at The Law Offices Of Richard Mucci understand the unique challenges that nonconforming land, structures, and uses present.
We handle land use cases in a time-efficient and effective manner to ensure that the applicable statute of limitations is met and that your ultimate objectives and successfully achieved. Our attorneys are experienced, resourceful, and attentive and will use these qualities to create an efficient strategy that is personalized to your unique set of circumstances.
If you are dealing with an issue regarding a nonconforming use or structure call The Law Offices Of Richard Mucci at 781-729-3999 to consult win an experienced Massachusetts real estate lawyer.