Dealing in land has its own lexicon of terminologies and definitions and they can be confusing.  It’s important to have a clear and accurate understanding of what all the different terms mean, and how they are used.  Let’s have a look at four of the most common terms in land use dealings:  Easement, License, Variance, and Permit.

An easement is, in its simplest terms, a right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land, for a specific purpose.  One of the most common examples is a walkway or path which is actually located on someone’s property.  The easement allows for use of the land for pedestrian use.  It’s known as a nonpossessory interest in the land of the owner.  Easement rights are permanent; they go with the land, regardless of its ownership changing hands.

A license, as it pertains to land use, is an agreement that allows a party to use the licensor’s land for a specific use.  In no way does it infer that the land is assigned, or that the land use is permanent, or that it can be bequeathed to an heir or given to some third party.  A simple example is a licensor granting parking on their property to a licensee holding some event on an adjacent property.  The license is issued for that event only – it is not permanent.

A variance is an exception made to a local zoning law.  There are different types of variances including:

Area variance – a request to change not how the property is to be used, but rather some physical aspect of it. A very common example is requesting a variance to put up a fence over a stretch of land.

Use variance – here, you are looking to actually change the use of the land.  Very frequently, investors or developers will request use variances, for example, to build a multi-story structure on land zoned for single-story structures only.

A land use permit, as the word implies, is official permission from the municipality to use or develop a piece of land.  Common types include:

  • Zoning Certificate
  • Administrative Use Permit
  • Use Permit after Public Hearing

We hope this brief overview gives you a better understanding of the different ways land can be used.  If you need help figuring out what legal avenues to pursue for your building project or resolving land use issues, contact us with your specific inquiries! Our experience throughout California’s business and real estate industries puts our firm in a strong position when representing your interests.

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