land use & zoning law

right of way

1) The right to pass over or through property owned by someone else, usually based upon an easement. There may be a specific path that must be taken, or the right may be more general. The mere right to cross without a specific description is a "floating" easement. A right of way may be granted for a particular purpose -- for example, to repair power lines or to make deliveries to the back door of a business. 2) In traffic law, the right to proceed, which must be granted to a driver by other drivers under certain circumstances. A driver who fails to yield the right of way when it is required by law may be ticketed. The failure to yield can also be evidence of negligence if an accident results and there is a lawsuit.

restrictive covenant

An agreement (covenant) in a deed to real estate that restricts future use of the property. Example: "No fence may be built on the property except of dark wood and not more six feet high, no tennis court or swimming pool may be constructed within 30 feet of the property line, and no structure can be built within 20 feet of the frontage street." Also called "covenant running with the land" if it's enforceable against future owners. Restrictive covenants based on race (for example, "the property may be occupied only by Caucasians") were declared unconstitutional in 1949.


Any limitation on activity, by statute, regulation, or contract provision. In multiunit real estate developments, condominiums, and cooperative housing projects, the homeowners' associations or similar organizations that manage these developments are usually required to impose restrictions on use. The restrictions are part of the "covenants, conditions, and restrictions" ("CC&Rs") intended to protect and enhance the property. They are part of each owner's deed.

nonconforming use

Also known as a prior nonconforming use (PNU), this exists when a zoning code is changed, but a parcel of land that is already being used for something disallowed by the new zoning code is "grandfathered in" (is allowed to continue).  For example, if a neigborhood zoning is changed to residential, a corner grocery store may be allowed to continue to operate.  The PNU will generally end when the use of the land is changed (so if the grocery store closes, the new zoning code will bar a new store from moving in).


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