You may have crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s pertaining to the design of your new building. The architect and engineers did a splendid job – it’s a masterpiece – but it might never get built. That’s because there are a myriad of legal considerations regarding land use, zoning and permits which must be addressed well in advance of breaking ground.

Attempting to proceed with a construction project without all of them 100% looked after could put the brakes on your project before the first shovel hits the ground. Here’s a look at some of the legalities, and why it’s a good idea to have a competent construction lawyer on your side, as you wade through the morass of laws surrounding land use, zoning and construction permits.

The Police Power of a Municipality

This terminology has nothing to do with the beat cop in your neighborhood. The Police Power, as it pertains to municipal law, is the concept that a city has the power to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its residents. It’s a right, set forth in the California Constitution, granted to every municipality. Land use and zoning are a derivative of this power. Thus, cities get to establish the land use and zoning laws which govern how land is used.

Nothing Can Be Built Without A Permit

Period. It’s stated so, in the California Building Standards Code, and it applies not only to new construction but also to repairs, renovations, additions, and demolition of buildings or structures. A separate permit is required for each structure from the building official.

What can really complicate matters is that Code requirements vary among cities and counties in the state. There are three separate sets of Building Departments:

  • City
  • County
  • Town

You start to see why it might be a good idea to enlist the help of an expert, just to get this part of the process right.

The Relevant Laws

When it comes to land use, there are at least five different statutory schemes in California you will need to be familiar with, for your proposed project. These include:

  • Planning and Zoning Law, Government Code sections 65000 – 66035
  • Subdivision Map Act, Government Code sections 66410 – 66499.58
  • Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Public Resources Code sections 21000 – 21189.3, 14 CCR 15000 – 153872
  • Ralph M. Brown Act, Government Code sections 54950 – 54963
  • Mitigation Fee Act, Government Code sections 66000 – 66008

Then there is the requirement by the state for each municipality to have a general plan including requirements and details regarding the following:

  • Land Use Element
  • Circulation Element
  • Housing Element
  • Conservation Element
  • Open Space Element
  • Noise Element
  • Safety Element

You start to see why some professional help in this area might come in handy.

In Summary

All of the above-listed laws and statutory requirements must be met and approved in advance of any construction project’s initiation. Any one of them could impose serious obstacles to your vision and plans. That’s why it is so important to enter into any building project informed; the help of a qualified construction lawyer could be of tremendous benefit, in getting the job done right.

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