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Variance: Real Estate License Explained

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In real estate, terms like variance, area variance, and use variance pop up often. They carry weight when getting a real estate license and understanding property rules. Let’s dive into the meanings of variance, area variance, and use variance. We’ll see why they matter and look at examples to make their role clear in the real estate world.

What is Variance/Area Variance/Use Variance?

In its simplest form, variance refers to a deviation from the existing zoning or land use restrictions in a specific area. It provides property owners with the opportunity to obtain legal permission to use their land in a way that is not typically allowed under the existing regulations. Variance can encompass various aspects of property use, such as the type of building, setbacks, height restrictions, parking requirements, and more.

Furthermore, variance can be divided into two distinct types: area variance and use variance. Area variance is concerned with deviations related to physical aspects, such as building dimensions or lot size, whereas use variance deals with the intended purpose or conduct of a property, such as converting a residential property into a commercial space.

When applying for an area variance, property owners must demonstrate that strict adherence to the existing zoning regulations would cause them undue hardship. This could be due to unique characteristics of the property, such as its size, shape, or location, that make it challenging to comply with the regulations. Area variances are typically granted when the requested deviation is minimal and does not significantly impact the surrounding properties or neighborhood.

On the other hand, obtaining a use variance is often more challenging, as property owners must prove that the current zoning restrictions deprive them of all reasonable use of the property. This requires a detailed analysis of the property’s history, surrounding land uses, and the economic feasibility of the proposed alternative use. Use variances are granted sparingly and only when strict adherence to the zoning regulations would result in an extreme hardship for the property owner.

Understanding Variance/Area Variance/Use Variance

When seeking a variance, property owners must approach their local zoning board or planning commission. These entities are responsible for reviewing and granting or denying variance requests based on various factors, including the impact on neighboring properties, adherence to community plans, and maintaining the overall character of the area.

Area variance requests are commonly made when a property does not meet specific requirements, such as setbacks or lot size limits, and the property owner seeks relief from these regulations. On the other hand, use variance requests typically involve requesting permission to use a property for a purpose that is not permitted under the existing zoning restrictions.

It is important to note that the process of obtaining a variance can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some areas may require public hearings where neighbors can voice their opinions on the proposed variance, while others may involve a more administrative review process. Property owners should be prepared to present a strong case for why the variance should be granted, addressing concerns such as how the variance will not negatively impact the surrounding properties or community.

Additionally, property owners should be aware that variances are typically considered on a case-by-case basis and are not guaranteed. Zoning boards and planning commissions have the responsibility to weigh the benefits of granting a variance against any potential negative consequences. This decision-making process aims to balance the needs of individual property owners with the broader goals of the community in terms of land use and development.

Why Is Variance/Area Variance/Use Variance Important?

The importance of variance, area variance, and use variance lies in their ability to strike a balance between property owner rights and community regulations. They provide a mechanism for property owners to adapt to changing needs and utilize their properties in unique ways while ensuring that the overall community fabric remains intact.

Without the option of variance, property owners would often be constrained by rigid regulations that do not account for evolving circumstances or potential economic benefits that certain property uses may bring to an area. Additionally, variance helps foster innovation, creativity, and economic growth by allowing property owners to explore new ideas and adapt to market demands.

Moreover, variance plays a crucial role in promoting sustainable development practices. By granting variances that support environmentally friendly initiatives such as green building designs, solar panel installations, or rainwater harvesting systems, local authorities can encourage property owners to contribute positively to the ecological well-being of the community. This not only benefits the environment but also enhances the overall quality of life for residents.

Furthermore, the concept of variance is deeply rooted in the principles of fairness and equity. It allows for a case-by-case assessment of unique circumstances that may warrant exceptions to standard zoning regulations, ensuring that decisions are made with consideration for individual property characteristics and community interests. This flexibility in zoning regulations helps maintain a delicate balance between preserving the character of a neighborhood and accommodating the evolving needs of its inhabitants.

Example of Variance/Area Variance/Use Variance

Let’s consider an example to illustrate how variance, area variance, and use variance manifest in real estate. Imagine a property owner who desires to construct a building on their lot but finds their plans conflicting with the local setback regulations. This property owner can seek an area variance, requesting relief from the setback requirements to proceed with their construction plans. The local zoning board would then assess the impact of this deviation and make a decision based on the surrounding properties and community interests.

In this scenario, let’s delve deeper into the concept of area variance. Area variance typically involves a request for relief from dimensional requirements such as setbacks, lot coverage, or height restrictions. Property owners may seek area variances when strict application of zoning regulations would create practical difficulties or undue hardship in developing their land. The decision-making process for granting an area variance often considers factors such as the unique characteristics of the property, the impact on the neighborhood, and the intent of the zoning ordinance.

Variance, area variance, and use variance are essential tools in the real estate industry that help property owners navigate the complex landscape of zoning regulations and restrictions. These variances enable property owners to overcome challenges and limitations imposed by zoning laws, allowing them to pursue development projects that may not conform to the strict requirements of the existing zoning ordinances. Area variance, in particular, is significant as it pertains to specific dimensional requirements such as setbacks, lot coverage, and building height. Property owners seeking to deviate from these requirements can apply for an area variance to accommodate their unique circumstances and development plans. This flexibility in zoning regulations is crucial for promoting sustainable and innovative development practices that align with the evolving needs of communities. Moreover, use variance plays a critical role in allowing property owners to utilize their land in ways that may not be typically permitted under the existing zoning regulations. This variance provides property owners with the opportunity to explore alternative uses for their properties, promoting economic growth and diversity within neighborhoods. By granting use variances, local zoning boards can support the adaptive reuse of existing structures and foster a more vibrant and resilient real estate market.


Variance, area variance, and use variance are essential concepts to grasp when it comes to understanding real estate licensing and property regulations. These terms allow property owners to deviate from existing zoning or land use restrictions to make the most of their properties while ensuring community cohesion. The ability to seek variance expands the possibilities within real estate and encourages innovation, economic growth, and a dynamic landscape that adapts to the ever-changing needs of society.

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