What is the Difference Between a Deed Restriction and a Zoning Ordinance Under US Law?

The distinction between zoning and deeds is that of public versus private regulation. Zoning codes are enforced by municipalities and, in general, refer to the density and use of space. On the other hand, deeds monitor this and more in the case of private property and are often enforced by Homeowners Associations (HOAs). The main public control of land use is zoning, in which properties of the same type, such as residential or commercial, are designated for particular geographical areas.

The main private control of land use are deed restrictions, which limit what the landlord can do on the property. The main purpose of land use controls is to limit population density, noise and pollution and to maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood. Sometimes, properties that were developed before the enactment of zoning ordinances may not comply with the new regulations, or that zoning requirements may cause undue hardship for some homeowners due to the nature or topography of the land. Therefore, a residential rezoning of commercial property is more likely to be approved if the land is located near a property divided into residential zones. In addition to government restrictions on land use, there may also be private restrictions enacted by property owners or developers, especially over time. These restrictions are usually enforced through deed restrictions.

In a ReasonTV documentary, it was stated that deeds were among the property rights that city residents should have if single-family zoning were eliminated from their neighborhoods. The zoning authority grants a variance to the owner of a property to allow for a specific violation of the zoning ordinance, generally because the zoning ordinance imposes a burden on the landlord due to the nature of the parcel of land. Compliance with zoning ordinances is monitored by issuing zoning permits, in which the owner or developer cannot substantially modify the use of the property without obtaining a zoning permit, which will not be issued unless the proposed development conforms to the zoning ordinance. However, if the owners of adjacent properties do not file a court order or it takes a long time to issue one, the court may decide that the restrictive agreement no longer applies and that it has stopped working due to lack of compliance, which the law sometimes calls laches.