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Zoning of house not disclosed

by Charmaine
(IL)

Visitor Question: I found out after I closed on my house that it is in a zone for redevelopment. It was never disclosed. Do I have any recourse? I never would have bought it had I known.

Editors Answer: To answer your direct question, an Illinois attorney will have to advise you about whether you have any legal recourse. That would depend on many more facts, laws, and case law than we could possibly have access to from our remote location. But we will share some discussion points with you, to help you decide what to do next and to help you prepare for an efficient visit to an attorney if you decide that is what you want to do.

You used the word "zone" in your question, and "rezoning" in the original title of your question. (We edited the title a bit for technical website reasons.) If you indeed mean the house is in a redevelopment zone, which is an official zoning district under your town or city's zoning ordinance, unfortunately in most states by both law and custom, it falls to the home buyer to find out what the zoning is and what will be allowed and required under that zoning district.

Granted, your real estate agent, if you used one, should have been watching out for this situation and advising you of the unusual zoning for this home. But often real estate agents are poorly trained in understanding zoning properly, so sometimes this does not happen. Yes, your agent's broker, any title company used in the transaction, and any mortgage company involved in the transaction also should have informed you of this situation. We are not trying to excuse the ignorance or silence of any of these parties who should have disclosed this information to you. Yet legally, it often is held to be your responsibility in the end.

Staying with the idea that "redevelopment" is the name of a zoning district in your community, check into everything that this means. Obtain a copy of the district regulations and any other regulation in the zoning law that would pertain to that district. Often nowadays cities place the entire zoning district online, where anyone can read it. If so, look in the contents and find a portion where the Redevelopment district is discussed. Read everything there, and then also look for other entries in the table of contents that might have a bearing on what you can do with your property. Typically that would involve signs, parking, and processes for seeking a rezoning or filing for a zoning variance.

If you find the material online but cannot understand it, pay a visit to your city hall during office hours and talk with a person in the know until you understand it.

Also you can and should assess the likelihood that someone will be choose to take advantage of that redevelopment zoning in the near future. Sometimes cities impose a zoning category more on the basis of hope than on any sound market analysis of something that could and should happen. Look at the size of your property, whether adjoining properties also are zoned for redevelopment, how quickly land is being bought and sold in your neighborhood and community, and whether your community is growing.

If your home is on a typically sized residential lot of a quarter acre or less, a developer is probably going to take a long time to assemble enough land to undertake a redevelopment project. Even if you have a larger lot, is it big enough for a developer to be interested? Perhaps yes, if you live in a gentrifying neighborhood where property values are going up rapidly and where larger, more expensive homes are being built after older, smaller homes are torn down.

But in many situations, your lot won't be in demand for redevelopment any time soon, so you might decide just to stay and make the best of the situation. If you do that, of course you would need to be mindful of not making any major expensive renovations that would not raise the value of the home an equal amount.

Now let's look at what we think might be a more likely meaning behind your question. We suspect that maybe instead of Redevelopment being a zoning district in your city, you have found out that your home is the subject of a formal or informal redevelopment plan of your city. These redevelopment plans could be passed by separate ordinance, apart from the zoning ordinance. Or alternatively, a developer may have filed a preliminary or final site plan for a redevelopment under the zoning ordinance or a separate site plan ordinance.

Now your situation becomes even more complex, but the good news is that in that event, at least your city will have a record of whether any developer has filed for permission to redevelopment properties that include yours. This will mean that they have contact information and that you could start dealing with the developer.

We suggest that you ask city officials the question about whether any development plan has been filed.

Sometimes developers actually will overpay for properties in order to help them assemble a large enough tract of land, so don't assume that if you have to talk to a developer that it will go badly. It would be better to know than to worry.

If the city tells you that your equivalent of a city council has adopted a redevelopment plan, but that no developer currently has an interest in fulfilling that plan, you can talk with the city representative about whether the development community has ever expressed any interest or enthusiasm about redevelopment prospects in this location. If not, again you might reasonably make the choice to just stay in your home and enjoy it while you can, keeping it maintained well but not making any expensive renovations.

In short, don't panic and don't automatically assume that you need to rush to sue everyone involved in selling you your home. Get some more information before you figure out what to do. It is indeed unfortunate when this kind of thing happens, but you may yet be able to make lemonade after this lemon of a situation.

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