Zoning and Land Use: Critical Considerations When Buying Land From a Neighbor

When a neighbor gives you the opportunity to purchase their land, it’s incredibly exciting. It may be your chance to add an extension to your home, build your dream home, or plant the garden you’ve always had planned in your mind. However, just like purchasing property from family members, buying land from a neighbor can come with issues. 

If you trust your neighbor, you may overlook red flags that would otherwise stop a deal in its tracks. Just like you would with any other real estate purchase, you must do your due diligence when purchasing property from a neighbor. One topic to keep in mind is zoning and land use—these regulations could completely change whether or not a piece of land is right for you. Keep these considerations at the forefront of your mind as you explore an Annapolis land purchase.

Current Zoning for the Plot

Before delving too deep into your plans for a piece of land, look into the current zoning designation for the land. Land is usually designated for residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or mixed-use. If you want to venture outside the limitations imposed by the current zoning designation, you’ll need to challenge the zoning requirement—and that’s an entirely separate thing to plan for.

Once you know the designation for a piece of land, you can look into the limitations in your municipality to determine whether or not your plans fit in. For example, if you live in an area that mixes commercial buildings with homes, you don’t want to buy a commercial lot for an extension of your home.

Know the Process of Challenging Zoning Requirements in Your Municipality

If the current zoning designation isn’t what you wanted, all is not lost. You may be able to amend the zoning designation, but you will need to look into the requirements for an amendment. In Annapolis, this is overseen by the Department of Planning and Zoning

Each municipality has different requirements, and the likelihood of success also varies between municipalities. If you live in a municipality where no one has been granted a zoning amendment in 15 years, you would be taking a huge risk buying property that is not zoned for your intended use. On the flip side, if you live in a municipality where zoning amendments are frequently granted, you may have a bit more hope about your odds.

Planning Restrictions

In addition to zoning regulations, you should also look into other planning restrictions that may place limits on your use of the property. If the land is in a historical or preservation district, there are likely significant restrictions on what you can and cannot do. Restrictions are in place to preserve the character of a historical area.

You may also want to look into setbacks and easements. Setbacks can limit where you can place structures and how far they must be from the property line, and easements may grant others access to the property. Some easements transfer with the property, while others terminate upon transfer.

Other restrictions may exist; some municipalities have specific regulations for landscaping, maintenance, and other aesthetic concerns. This is an even greater risk if the land is governed by the HOA, since you may need approval for basically any changes you wish to make.

Consequences of Misusing Land

What happens if you jump in with both feet and fail to do your due diligence? Violating the regulations and restrictions placed on land can get you in significant trouble. Fines are likely; the municipality may give you an initial warning and then fine you if you do not remedy the issue within the given timeframe. 

Not only do you have to foot the bill for undoing all of the changes you made, you lose the money that you spent enacting those changes. You could even face a lawsuit if neighbors or others in the area experience issues because of the changes you make. The property itself may lose value, and you could suffer a loss of reputation within your community.

It is crucial that you consult professionals in Annapolis before making any purchase decisions. While you may trust your neighbor, do not just take their word for it when discussing issues that could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s worth the peace of mind.