Objection to neighbors variance

by Marian
(Pine beach, nj)

Visitor Question: I live in a small town in New Jersey. The town is only a mile wide and long.

New people bought a home next to ours; it is on a corner lot. In 1980 we allowed our neighbors to put a garage 2 1/2 feet from our property line. The new neighbors now want to extend the garages out 10 feet which will box us in as our driveway is on the east side of their property where they want to extend the garages. They also want to go up top 19 feet. Coverage of land is 30 percent more and they are requesting waivers for the rear and side setbacks.

I tried to explain to the neighbors how we felt about their plans but to no avail. They have a two car garage and a small workshop. They want to extend the garage out 10 feet to the north and 12 feet to the west which will turn the existing 20 x 28 garage into a 30 by 40' garage. They have 4 lots which amounts to 100' x 125' deep.

Their house is 2500 sq ft, the extension will add another 1200 sq feet. They are only allowed 20 per cent coverage of the total sq ft of their property. With a shed they have on the premises another 96 sq ft can be added to that. It is going to be an extensive addition.

Can I possibly stop it because it is over building on the property.

Editors' Reply: We are sorry to say we can't tell from your question whether it is a violation of your town's zoning ordinance or a violation of a covenant of your subdivision or homeowner's association covenants that your neighbor is threatening to violate.

That makes a big difference in how you would fight their plan.

So first let's suppose that it is a zoning ordinance that gives a limit on what percentage of the land can be covered by buildings (or most ordinances would use the slightly broader term "structures.")

In that case, almost everywhere in the U.S. the zoning law gives a procedure for seeking what is called a zoning variance.

A zoning board of appeals, board of adjustment, or some similarly titled body, rather than the regular planning commission, usually decides whether the variance can be granted. As we say on our more detailed page about this subject (click Zoning on the navigation bar, then choose zoning variances), zoning theory is that the variance should not be granted unless there is a unique hardship that would be imposed on a property owner if he or she had to abide by the letter of the law.

Variances should not be granted just because someone wants to do something not allowed under zoning. But as we point out, this "hardship" theory is being ignored more and more. In your case, we would say you may want to see an attorney if these new neighbors get a zoning variance.

Now, let's say that instead of a zoning ordinance, your neighbors would be violating a deed restriction, restrictive covenants, subdivision covenant, or similarly titled document.

As we explain on our main page about deed restrictions, these are enforceable only by going to court. So this would mean an immediate expense to you, unless someone in our household is an attorney.

We commend you for trying to resolve this matter by talking directly with the neighbor. Sometimes this works, and it is the first thing that someone in a similar circumstance should try.

Good luck with this; sometimes neighbors just are stubborn about what they want.

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