Variance Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Variance?

(n) Variance is the variation or excess from the limit authorized governmental authorities like zoning body, city council . Zoning ordinance may limit the construction outside the accepted limits of city or other within the limited boundaries of the property..

History and Meaning of Variance

Variance is a term used in zoning law and land-use planning, which allows for flexibility in the implementation of certain zoning regulations. It refers to a permitted deviation from the specific requirements of a zoning ordinance or land-use regulation. The variance may be granted by a zoning board of appeals or similar body when the strict application of zoning laws would cause unnecessary hardship to the property owner. It is important to note that a variance does not change the underlying zoning district, but only allows a deviation from specific requirements.

In the United States, zoning laws date back to the early 20th century, and they were initially created to address issues of public health and safety. Zoning regulations were implemented to prevent the construction of buildings that posed a threat to public health by preventing congestion and promoting cleanliness. Over time, zoning laws have expanded to include regulations related to land-use, design, and environmental impact. Variance became an important tool as it allows for flexibility in zoning laws that would otherwise be rigid and inflexible.

Examples of Variance

  1. A property owner in a residential neighborhood wants to add a second story to their home. However, the zoning regulations only permit single-story structures. The property owner can apply for a variance to allow the construction of a two-story structure.
  2. A business owner wants to open a restaurant in an industrial zone, but such use is not permitted in the zoning ordinance. The business owner can apply for a variance to use the property for a different purpose.
  3. A property owner wants to build a larger garage than allowed in the zoning ordinance. The property owner can apply for a variance to exceed the size limitations.

Legal Terms Similar to Variance

  1. Special Use Permit - a permit that allows a landowner to use the property in a manner that is not typically allowed by the zoning ordinance, typically a case-by-case approval with specific restrictions.
  2. Conditional Use Permit - a permit that allows a landowner to use the property for a specific purpose if they meet certain conditions in the zoning ordinance, such as sufficient parking or access to utilities or services.
  3. Nonconforming Use - a lawful use or structure that existed before the enactment of the current zoning regulations and is now in violation of those regulations. However, it is typically grandfathered in under the assumption that the property owner did not have the opportunity to conform to the current zoning ordinances.