How to Handle a Zoning Violation

If you receive a letter in the mail from your local Zoning Authority, and you are unsure what steps to take, you are not alone. Many people are surprised to find out that Zoning Authorities in Virginia operate like their own little governments. The General Assembly has given them broad powers to create and enforce zoning ordinances. If you receive a notification that you are in violation of one or more of these ordinances here are some critical points to keep in mind.

  1. Deadlines, Deadlines, Deadlines

It is important that you read your violation letter very carefully to understand exactly what the violation is and what your deadlines are. Many times the letter will give you a date by which you must remedy the violation. Check to see when the clock starts. Is it when you receive the letter, or when the letter was sent? You need to call the number on the letter and talk to them about the deadlines and ask for an extension. They are usually willing to grant reasonable extensions.

Fairfax: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/contactdpz.htm

Arlington: https://building.arlingtonva.us/our-staff/

Alexandria: https://www.alexandriava.gov/Planning#ContactUs

Loudoun: https://www.loudoun.gov/zoning

Prince William: http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/planning/zoning/pages/zoning-hours.aspx

  1. Appeal

In Virginia, you have 30 days to appeal a violation letter to the Board of Zoning Appeals. This sometimes confuses people because they expect to go to court. Instead, the first appeal is heard by this special board. It is important to know that you will not get more time for the appeal even if you get an extension for the violation letter. While this is an administrative hearing, the Zoning Authority has the authority to charge you with multiple civil infractions all the way up to criminal misdemeanors for non-compliance with the zoning ordinances. So, it is important that you act quickly. More Fairfax specific information can be found here.

  1. Take it to Court

Sometimes these matters go to actual court because either you or the locality appeals the decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals. You may also be summoned to court if the Zoning Authority has taken some other legal action against you, such as charging you with a criminal misdemeanor. In this case, be sure to read your summons carefully and call the clerk of the court if you have any questions.

  1. Seek Exceptions

Zoning codes are often filled with exceptions. A few of the common ways to get around the ordinance is to request a variance or a special use permit. It is wise to seek the advice of an attorney who familiar with all the exceptions to see what your options might be.

If you’ve received a Zoning Violation letter and advice or representation for the hearing on the matter, Contact Keithley Law, PLLC today by calling (703) 454-5147 and schedule an initial consultation in our Fairfax law office with one of our Virginia attorneys. We can walk you through the steps to get the most out of your case.

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