In matters pertaining to real estate, zoning refers to the regulations framed by the different stratum of the government to cope with the manner in which particular tracts or personal plots of land may be utilized. In other words, zoning means the method of regulating the management of land. Zoning also denotes keeping back land with specific intention and for particular usage that has been classifies beforehand. For instance, in the towns and cities some land is marked for residential purpose, while the other part for commercial usage. The zoning of a particular land in a city or town, whether it is marked for commercial or residential purpose, may be an important aspect of a transaction if anyone desires to buy or sell some land in a municipal area. It may be mentioned here that a zone category is also known as a zoning district and each of them have their specific array of limitations controlling how a particular plot of land in that zone category may be utilized. In the event of the land lying in a commercial zoning district there will be a specific series of regulations and restriction, and if the land is in a residential zoning district, the limitations regarding its usage will be different.

A primary explanation behind the necessity of the zoning system is said to be making sure that the usage of lands in the neighborhood is harmonious. For instance, no one would want a factory to be constructed beside his residence as this would not only lead to din, contamination and other unwanted aspects, but also make the house unfit for residence. Thus, to avoid such maladies, local authorities set up zones where factories cannot be set up or zones specific for construction of factories. Hence, each zone category has its individual constraints to ensure that only particular types of activities can take place in those zoning districts and that these activities do not get in the way of the usual usage of the land sanctioned by the local authorities in that particular zone.

In brief, the purpose of dividing land into different zoning districts may be explained in the following way:

  • To ensure the execution of land usage in a manner that is most beneficial for the society.
  • To function as a regulation to prevent any trouble and thereby defend value of assets.
  • To support public health as well as endorse the ethics of the society.
  • To make certain that there is enough vacant land to meet future land requirement.
  • To control contest and the assets subject to tax.
  • To avoid expansion of municipal utilities beyond a certain point.
  • To defend and endorse the artistic milieu of the neighborhood.


In real estate matters, a by-law denotes a local or secondary law or a private law or rule made by a municipal corporation for its own governance, especially to control the usage of land and also restrict the usage of land in specific area for any objective apart from what has been established in a particular law. For instance, different municipal authorities may pass zoning by-laws that divide the land under the jurisdiction of the municipality into different neighborhood or zoning districts. The by-law precisely describes the occurrence of activities on a tract of land in a particular zoning district and the manner in which constructions may be sited on that particular real estate, including the obstructions, the extent to which it can be covered and other aspects.

Zoning by-laws include and describe several factors ranging from the zoning categories to restrictions and prohibitions to even the density of population in each zone. However, a useful zoning statute will include the following aspects:

  • It will classify different zones for assorted variety of utility and set up the particular kind of land usage in each zone - agricultural, residential, business, manufacturing and institutional.
  • It will establish a benchmark for constructing buildings - height of the buildings, parking needs, the least possible plot area, front part, distance from the street, intervening space in the side yards etc.
  • It will regulate the erection or modification of buildings.
  • It will offer ceilings on the utilization of land with a view to guarantee that the land usage is harmonious.
  • It will lay down stipulations regarding the maximum possible population concentration in a particular zone.
  • It will include provisions to control the maximum as well as the kind of sound that can emanate from a building in a particular zone.
  • It will control and, in cases, ban putting up hoardings or public display signs on specific buildings.
  • It will ensure that the cost of running the municipal corporation is kept at the minimum by marking land in different zoning districts for specific purposes. For instance, an effective zoning by-law will help in remarkably reducing the expenses of offering improved civic amenities to small industrial areas on the land within the purview of the municipality.

It needs to be mentioned here that the zoning by-laws basically lay down comprehensive instructions for the execution of the administrative strategy for activities within the jurisdiction of any specific municipal corporation and regulate the permissible utilities of land in each zoning district. It is possible to come across an array of focused zoning by-laws besides those that are particularly dealing with the present guidelines of land utility in any municipality. For instance, a statute known as 'holding by-law' defines the forthcoming usage of land and the term is generally used for regions where the municipality is yet to provide its civic services. On the other hand, the term 'interim control' by-law is a variety of zoning statute is basically used for a particular region that is immobilized by the local municipality in anticipation of further survey of the area prior to taking an ultimate decision on the specific usage of the land.

By-law amendment / rezoning

In real estate, rezoning or by-law amendment refers to any alteration of a prevailing statute to allow the improvement or utility of a real estate asset that is not in compliance with the present zoning by-law. It may be mentioned here that it is mandatory to organize a public deliberation prior to accepting, modifying or revoke any zoning statute. During the public hearing, it is essential to take notice of the observations made by people who think that their interests or the advantages of their real estate properties within the zone would be influenced by the planned statute. It is important that all such persons are given an opportunity to express their view and that they are also taken into consideration before effecting any amendment to the existing zoning by-laws.

Certificate / memorandum

Certificate or memorandum denotes the authority of a municipality to issue a zoning compliance certificate or a comparable communication vis-à-vis any particular zoning district to confirm that the defined usage or utilities conducted or that is intended to be conducted on that tract of land conform with the zoning regulations, contracts and classifications pertinent to that specific zoning district. The memorandum also confirms that all the build up or constructions on that specific zoning district confirms with each and every zoning regulations, agreements and categorizations influencing the lot. Finally, the memorandum or certificate issued by the municipality also asserts that the site of the construction or constructions on the tract of land confirms with the relevant zoning regulations, agreements and classifications of the particular zoning district.

Certificate / sub-classifications

A sequence of categorization or classification and sub-classification enables one to recognize the zones created by the municipality through the enactment of the zoning by-law. Although these classifications and sub-classifications differ all across Canada, some of them are common almost every where in the country. The common categories include residential, business, agricultural, industrial, opens spaces such as parks and sports fields, and ecologically receptive areas such as flood plains.

Again, each zone type or classification comprises a number of lesser land divisions that are known as sub-classifications. For instance, the zone category like residential may include a number of sub-classifications that describe the use of the land in that zone more accurately. Through the sub-classification, the municipality will reserve some tracts of land under that particular zone for specific usage like construction of a particular type of residential buildings in a specific sub-classification under the residential classification of land. It may be mentioned here that as the land under each zone category has a specific usage, the land under the sub-classification of that zone type too has a designated use and these assigned usages cannot be inter-changed. It is pertinent to mention here that only a competent authority is empowered to change any property's utility mentioned in a particular zoning category or sub-classification to another.

Non-conforming use

It has been noticed that whenever a municipality introduces a new zoning by-law in the area under its jurisdiction, it is likely that a number of current utilizations of some constructions in that particular sub-classification may be trapped in the zoning modifications. In such cases the law provides for exceptional stipulations for building present or under constructions during the adoption of a new zonal by-law. The existing buildings as well as the under constructions are allowed continuance of the legal usage of the premises as per the previous zoning by-law even if it does not comply with the new rules. Nevertheless, it is important to mention here that though the special provisions permit the non-conforming use of such buildings for a particular period, it makes it mandatory for these premises to comply with the new zoning rules for any future use of these buildings.

Zoning order

The ultimate power of a regional government or department entrusted with the task of planning to zone any real estate property in any province under its jurisdiction is known as zoning order. Generally, zoning orders are useful in remote provincial regions that are presently not governed by any municipality and are not related to zoning by-laws in any manner. However, in theory, a zoning order may be enforced by the provincial department anywhere in the province. But, in reality, usually the local municipalities deal with all the zoning matters in a manner compatible to the stipulations pertaining to appropriate town planning act.

Zoning requirements

The precise zoning requirements relating to explicit zones usually vary in different municipal areas. In fact, the series of restrictions or ceilings are comprehensively stated under a somewhat customary array of subject sections. These include aspects such as intent and objective of the pertinent zone, permissible and provisional usage of land, and volumes of rules that is relevant to all properties existing within the purview of an explicit sub-classification comprising issues such as single-family zoning districts, lowest plot size, height of a building, breadth of a lot, the front yard, side yard as well as the covered area of a lot. The volume prerequisites often also specify exemptions, common stipulations as regards to additional or extra constitutions, as well as permissible protrusions and impediments in the direction of the yards. In addition to these zoning requirements, there may also be additional rules describing precise land utilization such as extension of existing residential buildings, renovation of present constructions as well as construction of additional structures in existing buildings.

Zoning variances

A zoning variance is generally implemented for a property when the owner of the asset is of the view that the rules of the zoning by-laws have adversely or needlessly impinged on his or her asset. However, it needs to be mentioned here that unlike in the instance of rezoning, a zoning variance does not modify the regulations of the zoning by-law. On the contrary, a zoning variance tilts a regulation so much so as may be necessary to meet the requirements of the property owner. For instance, a zoning variance may allow having a smaller front yard of around 15 feet for a residential building, whereas the existing zoning by-law stipulates that the front yard must be of minimum 25 feet. Such a variance or difference will become the topic of a public hearing attended by the applicant or property owner and proprietors of adjacent properties. Following the hearing and taking the views of the concerned parties into account, the hearing panel may initiate any one of the three measures mentioned below:

  • The hearing board may endorse the variance submission with or with no stipulations.
  • The hearing board may straight away disallow the request for variance.
  • The hearing board may grant the request to a specific extent. As in the above mentioned case, it may allow a 20 feet front yard with or with no stipulations.

The fundamental disparity between a zoning variance and a rezoning is solely decided by the fact if approving a zoning variance would tantamount to breaking zoning regulations or would it simply be a deviation from the rules. It is obvious from the above discussion that if the zoning rules are actually broken by approving a zoning variance, then a request for a rezoning is definitely a more suitable course of action.

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