What is a Zoning Permit?

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  • Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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A zoning permit is a document obtained from a local government entity that authorizes the building or alteration of a structure within the zoning ordinances specified for the area. Zoning permits are necessary in most developed and developing countries to aid in enforcing compliance of a city’s plan. In order to completely understand the purpose of a zoning permit, it is necessary to understand the history and purpose of zoning ordinances.

In the late 1800s, Germany and Sweden applied zoning ordinances to address issues such as building height and congestion. The first major zoning laws in the United States occurred in the early 1900s to prevent developers from blocking light and polluting air in residential areas. California was the first place in the United States to adopt zoning laws within some of its cities. In 1885 in Modesto, California, the city restricted laundry facilities and wash houses to specific areas of the city. Also, the city of Los Angeles distinguished between residential and industrial areas.


Modern zoning ordinances divide land into use areas which typically include residential, commercial, industrial, recreational and agricultural. Each use area is subdivided based on other specifications such as building height, building location and type. Zoning regulations were created to offer specific controls and benefits for property owners. For example, ordinances stabilize residential property values by not allowing businesses or industries to develop in the backyard of someone’s home. Other goals of zoning regulations include relief of congestion in the streets, increased citywide safety, increased business efficiency and making life healthier by keeping pollution from large industrials away from residential areas.

Cities, villages, towns, counties and other local governments have plans for development that promote the land being used in the public’s best interest. In the case of France and Germany, the federal government oversees zoning and development. Individuals and businesses that wish to build new structures or modify existing structures must apply with their local governmental authority to obtain a zoning permit. Typically a paper application must be filled out and must accompany some type of fee. The exact procedure for obtaining a zoning permit changes between governmental authorities.

After a construction project has begun, local or state inspectors will most likely visit the construction site to ensure the project is progressing according to the permit. In some cases, more than one inspection will be necessary. After inspectors are satisfied that all work is being done correctly, they will typically offer documentation, which is most often a certificate of compliance.


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