Building whatever I want

by Dhroov

Visitor Question: If I own a property with no deed restrictions, could I build whatever I want on the property? Or if it was a yurt in Florida would that be acceptable?

Editors Reply: Deed restrictions are only one small part of what you must consider when thinking about what you can legally build on your property. We understand that in Florida, deed restrictions are very common, and we see how you might think that. However, deed restrictions are enforced through private lawsuits or through a homeowners association, not through a government. In this answer, we will point out some restrictions imposed by a government that you might need to comply with.

First, we believe that everywhere in Florida is covered by a zoning ordinance. It could be county zoning if you are not inside the city limits of any city, town, or village. Many Florida places include their former zoning ordinance in what may now be called a unified land development code or something similar. So you need to check into that.

Land use zoning creates districts that have regulations attached to them about what land uses are acceptable. (Note that "districts" does not mean necessarily contiguous pieces of land; think of districts more as an abstract idea here.)

So if your property lies in a territory where there is a zoning ordinance in effect--and we bet that it does--find out what zoning district applies to your land. Learn not only the permitted uses, as they are called, but also other regulations that pertain to your land, such as a limit on height of buildings and how far each side of the building must be set back from other property lines and from the street. Thus zoning is the first set of governmental laws that you must consider.

Second, we also believe that every county in Florida has a building code. A building code covers new construction, setting standards for what is acceptable. Most places adopt by ordinance (local law) a standard international building code, which they may or may not have amended to fit local conditions and tastes.

Your proposed yurt might or might not meet the building code that is in effect in the jurisdiction where your property lies, and if it does not, then you cannot erect a yurt even if there are no deed restrictions and if you can comply with all zoning ordinance provisions applicable to your district.

Sometimes cities and counties have a separate and different housing code. This code also is likely to be based on an international code, as amended to fit the location. For instance, in Florida, new buildings often must meet certain hurricane safety standards.

Your property also could be located in a floodplain or a coastal management area. Floodplains are determined by a national mapping project in the U.S., based on historical flooding data. Then typically local governments adopt special rules for properties located in the floodplain.

Along the coasts of the U.S., the federal governmental also maps coastal areas that may be subject to additional local control when compared to properties further inland.

Your property also could lie within a federal, state, or local historic district. These historic districts have local design guidelines that impose additional rules about what building types are acceptable. Typically the concept is for new buildings to fit into the historic architectural character of an area as much as possible.

The last example we will give is that your entire county, city, or village could have design standards adopted by a local government in consultation with its architectural review board. In many places architectural review boards exert considerable control over building types, insisting on some degree of architectural consistency with the existing neighborhood or even with a desired look for the neighborhood. These too, where they exist, carry the force of law.

In sum, it is extremely doubtful that you can build whatever you want on your property in Florida. (This is not true of many states in the U.S., by the way.) Ask the city where your property is located for a rundown of all applicable laws. If your property is outside of a city, town, or village, ask the county, which will almost certainly have some regulations that you must obey.

You can read much more about zoning regulations and local design review on this website by searching for those terms.

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