Non-Conforming Use Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Non-Conforming Use, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Non-Conforming Use?

It is referred to the use of the real property on which the activity is ongoing even before the the zone ordinance is passed, as long as it’s the same activity continued forever.It means if there is a liquor store on a property, and it had been there even before the Zone ordinance was passed( where they have decided to use the property for residential purpose only) may have violated such ordinance, but will still use the real property for that same liquor store.If the liquor store is converted into a convinient store, it would not be allowed as ordinance was passed for the residential only.

History and Meaning of Non-Conforming Use

Non-conforming use is a legal term that refers to the use of a property that was legally established before a new zoning law or ordinance was put into effect. Essentially, it means that a property owner can continue to use their land in a way that was legal before a zoning change, even if that use is no longer allowed under the new zoning ordinance.

The purpose of non-conforming use is to allow property owners to continue using their property in a way that was already established before the new law, without forcing them to abandon or change their existing use to comply with the new ordinance.

Examples of Non-Conforming Use

  1. A property owner has been operating a commercial auto repair shop on their land for 20 years. A new zoning ordinance is passed that designates the area as residential only. The property owner can continue to operate the repair shop because they were operating it legally before the zoning change.

  2. A homeowner builds a small shed on their property without a permit. Later, a new zoning ordinance is passed that requires all sheds to be permitted and must be at least 20 feet from the property line. The homeowner can continue to keep their shed as is because it was already established before the new law.

  3. A homeowner converts their garage into an apartment and begins renting it out. Later, a new zoning ordinance is passed that prohibits additional dwellings on the property. The homeowner's non-conforming use may be grandfathered in only as long as the dwelling is occupied within a specified timeframe.

Legal Terms Similar to Non-Conforming Use

  1. Variance: A variance is a legal exception that allows a property owner to deviate from the zoning requirements for their property. Unlike non-conforming use, a variance is not automatically granted and must be applied for and approved by the local zoning board.

  2. Conditional Use Permit: A conditional use permit is a type of permit that allows property owners to use their land in a way that is not permitted under the current zoning ordinance. It is granted only when specific conditions are met.

  3. Grandfathered in- when a property owner has a preexisting nonconforming use that makes them exempt from current zoning ordinances.