Understanding State and Municipal Laws
- Completion time About 25 minutes
While location and budget are huge factors in determining where to locate your business, it’s also important to consider any relevant state and municipal laws that might affect where you want to be and your flexibility there. In this lesson, we’ll talk about how property is zoned, environmental regulations, and how they affect your business location decision.
How Property is Zoned
Zoning divides an area into residential, commercial, and industrial sections (or zones) that are more or less separate from each other. The intent is to create a plan for the city or municipality that makes sense and fosters the most effective design for residents. Most zoning has previously been done at the local or municipal level — recently, however, there’s been additional emphasis placed on regional planning.
Once part of a municipality is assigned one of these three distinctions, there are a bunch of additional rules and regulations that apply to each particular type of zone. Things that are regulated by zoning rules can include:
- Types of buildings
- Size and height of buildings
- Building distance from the street and other boundaries
- Number of rooms
- Floor space
- Minimum cost
- Minimum lot size
- Available parking
- Preservation of significant historical or cultural features
Existing buildings aren’t the only ones subject to local zoning rules and regulations. They apply to renovations and new construction, too. That’s why it’s important to understand your local zoning regulations regardless of whether you’re purchasing a space or developing a new one — they’ll restrict what you can and cannot do with your business location.
Common Zoning Rules
Some of the most common zoning regulations involve where you’re allowed to conduct commercial activities, height and setback of buildings, historical preservation, and rules governing home-based businesses.
For specific info about zoning regulations in your area, and to ensure your business is compliant, you should contact your local planning agency. The quickest way to find them is to Google “[your city/state/municipality] planning.”
Depending on what business you’re in and where you’re located, you’ll have to follow certain environmental regulations handed down by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or related state and local agencies.
Common regulations that affect businesses include:
- Protected wetlands
- Endangered species
- Clean air and water
These rules place limits on air and water pollution and require permits for certain emissions and other activities businesses are likely to be involved in.
If you think environmental regulations might apply to your business, get more in-depth info from your state’s environmental agency. You can find your local agency through the EPA’s directory.
Things to Keep in Mind:
Do your research
No matter who you are, where you’re located, or what your business does, there are definitely zoning rules and regulations you need to abide by. Doing the research to ensure you’re complying with all relevant laws is essential to getting your business started on the right foot.
If you’re getting lost in all the jargon, you can consult a zoning and land use attorney or consultant.
Check state and local regulations
Both zoning and environmental regulations will vary from location to location. They also consist of layers of federal, state, and local rules that build upon one another. In order to ensure your business is compliant, you’ll need to look into regulations at all levels of government, from federal on down.
There are exceptions to zoning and land use rules
In certain circumstances, exceptions to zoning regulations are sometimes allowed. If you think your business needs an exception, we recommend consulting with a real estate attorney to ensure the proper processes are followed and everything is compliant.
- Basic Zoning Laws │ U.S. Small Business Administration
- Field Guide to Zoning Laws & Ordinances │ National Association of Realtors
- Environmental Regulations │ U.S. Small Business Administration
- Find a Lawyer │ Avvo