Should Family Farm Zoning Have Been Revealed

by S Taylor
(St. Johns County, FL USA)

Visitor Question: Neighbors are claiming a property was sold to them without being told it had a family farm designation, and now they want to break the property apart to be sold. Shouldn't it have been revealed when being sold and therefore upheld?

Editors Respond: Well, yes, it should have been revealed somewhere. We are assuming you mean that the property in question is zoned for a family farm, since you submitted this as a zoning question. (If by chance you mean that it is deed restricted, that is a different question, but that too "should" have been revealed.)

In the ideal situation, the zoning would be revealed on the real estate listing, but that happens so rarely in the U.S. that it is a pretty laughable suggestion on our part.

Second best would be that the real estate agent showing the property to those who became your neighbors should have been clear about the current zoning classification, especially when the agent heard about your neighbors wanting to develop the land as a subdivision. In your part of the country, real estate agents should be quite alert to the possibility that buyers are thinking of selling for development.

However, a naive or slightly or mostly unethical real estate agent might have seen that he or she would make a lot more money if the price is inflated to a value compatible with subdivision development. A slightly less devious agent might simply have encouraged your neighbor to think it was as easy to change the zoning to residential as simply asking for it.

We are having to be slightly tentative in our language here because customs across the U.S., not to mention the rest of the world, really do vary quite widely about what degree of disclosure of zoning is customary, legal, and accepted as ethical real estate practice by other real estate professionals.

Other entities that touch the sale process should be checking to make sure the purchaser is realistic too. We give title companies and financial institutions some of the blame when buyers don't understand the full picture of their zoning and any deed restrictions on the property.

In the final analysis your neighbors may be telling you the complete truth when they say no one told them the property was zoned for family farms.

We maintain that it is the property buyer's responsibility to inquire into and learn about the restrictions of the applicable zoning district. But many property buyers don't understand that. And often prospective purchasers become so excited about what they want to do with the property that they forget to check what legal hurdles they may face.

So there is no need to become confrontational with your neighbors about what they believed when they bought the land. However, you have every right to object when they try to change the zoning, if that happens.

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