It's critical for church leaders to understand zoning laws. Yet church leaders often are unfamiliar with how zoning laws work, not to mention the legal rights that can protect them in potential zoning disputes. Below is a list of 11 things churches should know about zoning:
1. Zoning laws can prevent your congregation (whether by lease or purchase) from using land or buildings in many areas. They can also prevent you from expanding current facilities.
2. Check zoning laws in advance. If you plan to purchase land or expand your present facilities, check with municipal officials before you shop and go online for a zoning map and code of the town so you'll know where churches are prohibited, allowed, or permitted conditionally.
3. Include a "zoning contingency clause" in any real estate contract to protect your congregation from a financial loss if permission to rezone the property is not obtained by authorities.
4. Get legal advice from a lawyer well-informed about zoning and real estate issues.
5. Be prepared for opposition and potentially confused or angry neighbors. Such battles are not won with lawyers, real estate agents, or money, but with prayer, fasting, discernment, gentleness, and patience.
6. Don't underestimate the concerns of neighbors. Their worries about traffic, parking, lighting, or drainage may be legitimate.
7. Most cities are not in compliance with the law. Our study of more than 200 municipalities shows that more than half have no zone whatsoever where churches can freely locate. This is in violation of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).