Zoning for Church Next Door

by Espe Pelayo

Visitor Question: A pastor is running a church out of his home in a neighborhood,and there are problems with traffic and kids acting like nuisance bullies. The pastor turns a deaf ear.

By taking down his sign from the street and in front of his garage, he's still within the law, the city says it's okay to congregate.

Nothing wrong with that. It's every Sunday 10:00 am till 12:00 pm, my neighbor says.

The traffic and commotions. I tried to mediate with the wife and husband but it's no use. My front door is near their front door; these are two front door homes.

The wife let her kids bounce a handball off the doors and it vibrates throughout the family room and my master bedroom upstairs. All of this started when I told their kids not to skateboard in my driveway. Then they started spitting on my son's car. And start shooting our two small dogs with air soft guns. As well as our neighbor's pool.

This has been ongoing. The pastor and I had a few words. But my stepped in to ask that we forgive each other. There was peace for about a week. Then his wife started in by letting her kids bounce the handball against the door.

I thought the zoning for a church is in a commercial area. If there was a fire, how would the fire department get to the homes? When is just meeting or congregating or church services every Sunday considered having a church with or without a sign?

I enjoy church and believe like everyone else but when is it taking it to far? They are just renting this home.. why don't they just rent a commercial property? My church does. They are taking advantage of the system. I'm not giving names just asking questions.

Editors' Reply: We're been noticing for some time that we receive many questions about appropriate zoning for churches, and many of these questions are from neighbors who are being inconvenienced.

These complaints are exactly the reason that a wise city makes a church a conditional use. As you should have picked up if you read our church zoning page, churches really enjoy constitutional protection in the U.S. Usually a zoning ordinance that prohibits them in any kind of zoning district--including residential--will be struck down in court.

However, reasonable safeguards against the extra traffic and noise that any large gathering can bring certainly can be applied. We agree with you that this gathering next door, which occurs every Sunday, sounds like a church.

Go to or call your city hall, and make sure they are complying with the zoning ordinance. Maybe the city just doesn't know this is happening.

If the city says yes, they are aware, and yes, churches are allowed in residential zoning--if that is what you have--then ask if any type of conditional use or special use permit is required. We recommend that a city should require these things.

The conditional use permit is where a de facto church such as the one you describe can be required to provide parking, to confine its meetings to certain times, to control its traffic, and to keep the noise within normal residential levels.

The real problem is that many people seem to be running churches out of their houses, which becomes a problem when there are more than about a dozen people attending.

Complain to your elected officials, meaning your city councilman or woman. Don't be afraid to complain; it's your right as someone living next door.

When you complain, try not to bring up typical neighbor disputes such as skateboarding or kids bouncing a handball against the door. You might be considered just plain crabby if you complain about everything. Try to stay on the topic of church zoning, whether what is happening next door is in fact a church, and whether they have the proper zoning and proper permits to run a church.

It could be that your neighbor was worried about the city's reaction, and that is why he took down the sign. Often a city's rules will not allow a home occupation or a business or organization having a special use permit to mount an exterior sign.

As you can see from the other zoning questions that have been submitted, too many of them also are about people running churches in a heavily residential area.

Really, would-be church leaders, do you need to do this? You are causing a lot of heartache if you try to run a start-up church in a residential neighborhood.

Comments for Zoning for Church Next Door

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RLUIPA vs Constitutional Right to Peaceful Home
by: P Moon

Espe, I feel your pain. I have one of these situations in my neighborhood. As always, Useful Community has given you good advice when they suggest you get the attention of your county council. It took me a few tries, but finally we got a new man as our County Council Chair, and wow he is all about citizen's rights, and our situation is under investigation.

You should find out when the county council meets and go before them in the open forum, which is usually 8am and is open to anyone to speak for 3 minutes. Write down what you want to say and practice it and then let them know that a residential property is being used this way. They will usually get back with you.

No one has the right to use their property in any fashion they desire. What you have is a private nuisance, but if you could get other neighbors to complain, you will not have to pay for a lawyer to launch a civil case, as I have had to do. It is expensive.

Try talking to a deputy sheriff if the issue is disturbing you and let them know that the nuisance is "felt" in your home by vibrations on your walls. Nuisance inside the home is more serious an issue than outside the home. Tape record the disturbance as you have the right to record any disturbance from your own property. A hand held recorder is much cheaper than an attorney and is great evidence to show the deputy.

Let me know how this goes; I am reluctant to say, "how this ends" as that could be while. I am in year 4 of my nightmare. Good Luck and don't let this man steal your dignity.

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