Nonconformity in Land Use

Nonconformity is an issue that has come up quite a bit in my time practicing land use law in Maine. It is also a concept that commonly leads to a lot of confusion. Nonconformity refers to a condition on property that does not comply with the land use regulations in place. Nonconformity is important because, generally, nonconforming conditions are allowed to continue after an ordinance is enacted rendering the use, lot, or structuring nonconforming. This is commonly referred to as “grandfathering”.

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Maine's Current Use Property Tax Programs

If you live in Maine you know it is a state with massive amounts of undeveloped, forested, or otherwise wild space. Often this type of land has been held in a family for several generations. The  property tax burden of sitting on open land can continue to grow as municipalities require more revenue. If the burden of continuing to hold undeveloped land gets excessive, landowners are encouraged to either develop the land or sell it to someone who will.  Maine has a tax program that allows landowners to designate undeveloped land and receive a reduction in property taxes.  While this program is not for everyone, it definitely can provide tax relief to people who wish to keep their land undeveloped.  

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Municipal Land Use Permitting

If you are thinking of making a change to how you are using a piece of real estate, you need to ask yourself, “do I need a permit for this change?”  Whether it’s building a home or accessory structure, converting a home to business use, or dividing a larger lot into multiple lots, you will likely need one or more permits from some governmental entity. The tricky question that you need to answer, which permits do you need?

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Variances: Maine's Undue Hardship Test Explained

So your family has been holding on to a small, vacant piece of real estate for decades. You never really got around to building anything on it and have decided now is the time to develop.  Surprise, your lot is smaller than your town’s minimum lot size for single family homes. Further, even a small house would be in violation of the town's setback requirements.  Are you completely out of luck and stuck with a useless piece of property? Not necessarily.  Some lots will be eligible for variances, which will relax zoning requirements in some circumstances.  

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Maine’s Regulation of Tiny Houses

Land use is frequently a challenging and complicated area when new housing developments arise.  New land uses often leave municipal and state regulators unsure of how to regulate. For example, some cities were initially unsure how to handle the rise of short term rentals through Air BNB, leading to new regulations. Alternatively, the growing number of people looking to operate food trucks has also led to regulatory adaptation. The tiny house movement is another such development that currently needs attention. 

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Use Caution When Clearing Vegetation in a Shoreland Zone

Now that spring is here, it is time to start preparing your family camp for summer. This may lead you to get the urge to clear out some vegetation around your property.  Maybe you have some trees that you think may be dying or safety hazards and you believe it’s about time to bring them down. This is not something you should do without being sure whether you need a permit. In many cases, even dead and dying trees need to be replanted and a Code Enforcement Officer should be consulted. Further, unpermitted cutting of vegetation on waterfront property can lead to civil penalties and expensive replanting projects. 

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Engage Early When Opposing Real Estate Developments

You have just moved into your dream house in what you believe to be the perfect community.  Everything is great for a while.  A few years later you receive a notice about a development being proposed in your community.  Maybe it’s just a project that you think will greatly impact your life in the community.  Maybe it’s a proposal to build a strip mall next to your home.  Now you have a choice to make.  Do you just sit back and hope the town planning board does, what you think is, the right thing?  Do you chain yourself to a tree? Do you try to stop or, at least, alter the project by getting involved in the approval process?  I would suggest that getting involved is your best bet. 

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Municipal Land Use Violations: Landowners Can Unknowingly be Exposed to Enforcement Liability

"It's my property, I can do what I want" is a common statement made by some landowners. With the increase in land use regulation and zoning, it has increasingly become a falsehood.  Land use regulations greatly impact how real property is used and can often prohibit seemingly harmless actions.  For example, some Portland landowners are facing enforcement actions for renting out their property on Airbnb.com.  

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