State & Local Authority in Regulating Land Use

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
State and local governments have the legitimate authority to regulate the use of real estate. In this lesson, you'll learn about the general police power of state and local governments and its application to real estate.

Police Power Defined

Paul works for a city's planning office. His job is to ensure compliance with the city's land use regulations. If anyone wants to construct a new building, renovate a preexisting one or subdivide land within the boundaries of the city, they have to get approval from Paul's department first.

Where does the city get this type of authority? The city gets to regulate land use through its police power. The police power is the power granted to a government to regulate and impose restrictions upon personal conduct and private property rights for the protection of the health, safety and general welfare of the general public. The police power allows states and local governments to pass laws, ordinances and regulations that affect many aspects of our lives, including land use.

This power is granted to the states by the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution and is limited by the rights found in the Constitution. For example, Paul's city can't take someone's land without paying just compensation pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Local governments, like Paul's city and the county it's in, do not possess inherent police power like the states. Instead, Paul's state must delegate its police power to the local governments.

You should note that the federal government doesn't have this general police power. The federal government can only act pursuant to a specific power granted to it under the US Constitution. For example, the government's ability to regulate businesses is largely based upon its authority under the commerce clause of the United States Constitution.

Application to Land Use

Paul's city has been delegated the authority by his state to enact ordinances to regulate the use of land within the legal boundaries of the city. An ordinance is simply a law or regulation that is enacted by a municipal government.

Let's take a look at some of the types of ordinances Paul works with. Paul is responsible for enforcing the city's zoning ordinances, which regulate the type of use that can be made of real estate within a specific geographic area or zone of the city. For example, if property is located in a residential zone, Paul's city will not approve the construction of an office building on the property.

Paul also ensures that all new construction and renovations comply with the city's building code. A building code mandates minimum standards on how buildings and other structures are designed, built, maintained, repaired, renovated and inspected.

Paul's city also has a historical district where he ensures that all buildings within the district are preserved and maintained in a historically accurate way. In other words, Paul won't let an owner of a Victorian home in the city's historical district modify its exterior architecture to make it more contemporary.

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