Grandfather Rights On Property in Massachusetts

Grandfather Rights On Property in Massachusetts

Have you heard people talking at the water cooler about some aspect of their house as grandfather? Well, today I’m going to explain what nonconforming means. And yes, I do not like the term grandfather because there’s multiple layers of property rights and it’s just not that simple.

Grandfather = Nonconforming ~ either “Use or Structure or Both”

There are two types of nonconforming, uses and structures. As far as building, fire, health and any other code that regulates the property, we’re not talking about these regulations or these issues.

The term non-conforming means that when the land was built upon or there was a use established it was done lawfully under the government regulations at the time. Fast forward to today and the regulations have changed. This happens because people sue towns or there’s a better way to write the code. And a lot of times, urban planners share codes to solve urban problems. There is a wonderful association, the APA, American Planning Association, that has a library of codes that they share nationwide. Governments change the regulations to make their town better. But, just because they say that they are going to change the code from here forward doesn’t mean that they have the legal right to take away your property right. So the term nonconforming is established. The property did conform at one time, but it no longer conforms to the current code.

For Residential Uses, typically it is differentiated by single and multiple residential uses on the same lot. Sometimes commercial uses are also located with in a residential area and because more people have home-based businesses, I want to give you an example. So let’s say someone has a dog kennel and there are 30 dogs that can be cared for and the kennel that was established in 1962, was legally established. Then over time, the town said, “No, no, no, not 30, only 10.” So now what? Well, the legally established kennel can remain as long as they operate properly, but any new kennels in the same zone are not allowed and only are allowed to serve 10. Does that make sense? Typically, if a nonconforming use stops operation for 12 months, the use is lost. Now, every town is different and it could be more restrictive or less restrictive. So be sure to check with Town Hall.

Let’s tackle structures. Typically structures have setbacks, floor area ratio, height regulations, and other urban elements such as parking size spaces. Let’s say someone built a garage legally, and at the time of construction, there was a zero side yard setback and now the side yard setback is 15 feet. The government can’t tell you you have to tear it down because it’s legally nonconforming. Simple, right? Well, not always because usually water and time change things. So for example, have you seen any poorly maintained garages around town? Are you allowed to repair and replace parts of the garage so it doesn’t fall down? Well, the answer is yes, but 100% you need to speak with the local town officials and follow the process exactly. They’re there to advise you or you will jeopardize your nonconforming right and you could even lose it. And I’m not kidding around about this, so don’t mess around. check with Town Hall before you reapir any part of a “non-conforming” structure.

Now, most town officials are super nice and they’re there to serve the public. If you treat Town Hall with respect, they will help you get your project going and conform. Here’s another example. What happens if there’s a fire in a garage and a good chunk of the garage burns down? Well, the government has a solution for this too. It’s usually called something a “reconstruction permit”, but again, you must follow the code and the town regulations to a T.

In general, just so you know, you usually can’t expand a nonconforming structure or most likely you will lose your nonconforming rights. If you have any questions, please call me. As always, here at Hottel Real Estate, we treat you the way we would want to be treated, buying and selling every home as it is our own. Make it a great day.

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