Zoning Changes on Private Property

Last Updated: August 8, 2020

Visitor Question: Can a city change my private property zoning classification without my permission?

Editors' Response: Yes, a city can change your zoning without your permission. Sometimes a city might even change your zoning without your knowledge, although that is rare.

In a legal sense, zoning is considered an exercise of what is known as the police power. Rezoning without property owner notification usually does not happen, and we are not saying it is a good practice on the part of the city, but it is possible. Rezoning against your wishes does happen, however, and the city might have sound reasons for that or it might have personal vendetta reasons of a most unsavory kind. It all depends on the facts of the case.

Police power in this sense doesn't have anything to do with the police, but it has everything to do with a city's general powers under state constitutions to do what they think is necessary for general health, safety, and welfare of the people.

The most common instance of rezoning is when a property owner, or would-be purchaser of land, requests a more advantageous classification.

In many locations this is called a rezoning petition. Again, it's not a petition in the sense of arguing for a point of view, but think of it as an application

However, you are asking does the city have the right to initiate a rezoning, whether or not you as the property owner agree with or want the rezoning. The answer is yes.

Most often cities do this when they have some type of policy goal to maximize. For instance, they might have decided that floodplains should be in a district that allows only for recreation, or that a particular part of town needs more residential density (housing units per acre) or less residential density.

If the rezoning would make your property less valuable, this would be known as a downzoning. You might want to read about that idea. If the city really has no rationale for the zoning changes on your private property, you might be able to sue for lost property value if you have been downzoned. However, if they have a sound comprehensive plan and followed its guidance in the actions they took, and if they followed their own procedures as required in the zoning code, you might not win such a lawsuit. Of course it is up to an attorney to advise you on that.

Even when the rezoning you oppose is rezoning of your own land, you would do well to master our ideas about re-zoning opposition. That article would give you some good tips.

In the case of just one property--yours--being rezoned in a way you don't like, you might have an argument that the city is proposing a spot zoning. Spot zoning may be illegal in some circumstances, and you certainly should use that argument if yours is the only property being considered for city-initiated rezoning right now.

This spot zoning argument would be powerful in the case of a small parcel, but if you own 10 acres or 40 acres, as examples, the city might be able to defend their actions in court, if it came to that. The larger the parcel, the less likely that a court might see the city's actions as arbitrary and capricious--two big words that courts use to strike down rezonings that don't seem to have a rational relationship to legitimate policy goals.

Overall you would do well to study up on the zoning section of this site if you find that you will be having to argue against the city's wish to rezoning your property.

The land use planning ideas on this site also may help you.

Click here to post comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Ask a Zoning Question.

Join GOOD COMMUNITY PLUS, which provides you monthly with short features or tips about timely topics for neighborhoods, towns and cities, community organizations, and rural or small town environments. Unsubscribe any time. Give it a try.