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Zoning Violations


Watercolorist

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I'm a full timer but I own an empty one acre building lot in a very small subdivision in Tama county, Iowa, just outside of Traer. The lot is zoned A-1 agricultural. I've had the lot for over six years, and originally had intended to build a house and studio (I'm an artist). Unfortunately, when I found out how much it would cost, I realized that I wouldn't be able to afford to build. When this dawned on me, I immediately put the lot on the market. I now have a Texas driver's license, Texas plates, and a mailing address with SKPs in Livingston. I head south for the winters and am only here in Iowa to mow the lawn, grow a garden, etc., until the lot sells. My next door neighbors have never been huge fans of me buying this lot. They have been extremely unfriendly and snobbish - the worst neighbors I've ever had. They were against me buying the lot from the very beginning but when I moved my trailer onto the land, that only made the situation worse. They recently made an offer on the land but it was way below what it is worth and I refused it, so now they have notified the Tama country zoning administrator, who has sent me notice that I am in violation of the building code: my travel trailer doesn't meet the minimum code, and I will not be able to come back to it and stay for the mowing and growing season next year. (With the possible exception of staying less than 30 days.) I have talked with the administrator to find out what my options are and he told me that he wants me to contact him next spring if and when I return to tell him what my status is.

 

My neighbors have no reason to object to me being here other than their own opinion or disapproval, i.e., I have never done anything to them which a reasonable person would object to, such as playing loud music at all hours, infringing on their property, etc., nor does my property look unkept or anything like that. In fact, all my other neighbors have commented on how nice I keep the lot and have complained about how they keep theirs!

 

I post this for any possible feedback from the members of this forum, and welcome any thoughts, especially those who have had a similar problem.

 

If I sell the land, the whole issue will solve itself. Actually, none of this really affects me until next spring, when I will have to decide what to do and where to go.

 

Thanks in advance for any feedback!

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Welcome to the forums!

 

Sounds like they'd like to get the lot cheap by forcing you to sell it. If they are right about the zoning issue, and they likely are, you won't be able to stay there unless you can cut a deal with the zoning guy.

 

Lots of folks have been bitten by zoning issues, some sold and some managed to find loopholes or exceptions to the zoning rules. Since you want to sell you don't want to invest any more money which takes any of my usual suggestions off the table.

 

Do anything you can to work with the zoning guy, making your point about only being there to maintain the property until it sells might be your best point. Check the local rules about what you must do to maintain your lot, sometimes you are required to do nothing, sometimes you have minimal weed control duties or they can be really picky. If they are picky you'd want to be armed with photos and addresses of any nearby lots that are in violation of the rules to use as ammunition in your negotiations.

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I didn't think of going that direction but it might work too.

 

Many years ago a friend got denied a permit to build an RV park so he leased the land to a guy that ran cattle on it. Neighbors begged for an RV park instead but the friend had done a 10 year lease and decided to retire so the cows stayed. Maybe you could rent some cows "to keep the grass down" so you wouldn't have to be there all the time. Either a farmer or even a 4H group that needs a bit of extra grass.

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Guest Pensauncola

I guess I'm going against the group here. Don't be a jerk. Cows, pigs, goats, chickens? You talk about requiring your time and attention.

 

You knew what the restrictions were when you bought the property. Nobody wants someone living in a travel trailer in a nice residential subdivision. You decided to not build, you decided to sell the lot. Just do what you need to do to sell the lot and move on. Take the high road. :)

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Thanks for the replies!

 

I didn't know the code restrictions when I bought the land, and as the saying goes, "ignorance of the law is no excuse." In retrospect, I can now see that I should have checked, but when I made the original offer to the sellers, it was with the written understanding that I would live in an RV until I built on the lot. Plus, I had a lawyer who handled my paperwork, and two, separate real estate agents were involved in the transaction. No one mentioned to me that I would be in violation and they all knew what my plans were, so I assumed all was in order.

 

My original intention was to build ASAP. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, and yes it has been over six years since I purchased the lot. I've discussed all of this with the zoning administrator, so I know where I stand. The fact that I had a written offer about living in an RV, that I'm only here from April to November, that I'm a Texan, etc., none of it matters to the county.

 

A few other points: I keep the lot well-maintained and in fact my property looks nicer than my complaining neighbors' place. They themselves admitted this the one and ONLY time they have ever spoken to me face-to-face, and all my other neighbors say the same thing. Another point: we're out in the country in quite a unique situation. It's probably not like one would imagine a small sub-division to be, with houses right next to each other. There are only two, one-acre lots in it, with the complaining neighbors on the one-acre lot adjacent to me, so it's not really like there is a group of nice homes all bunched together. Just to the west of me, is a huge grain field. My other neighbors across the road on acreages are friends and great neighbors to me, as I am to them. A nice young couple lives up on the hill, some two hundred yards away, and they are great neighbors as well.

 

I will take the high road! Thanks again!

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Stanley,

 

One unfortunate aspect to all of this is that they're a young couple with three small children, ages ranging from about 3 to 10, I guess. They are learning how to be Class-A jerks, first hand, from their parents.

 

By doing nothing vengeful myself, I will miss that, yes. But people like this live in their own self-made hell. Everyone seems to know how they are and this is a small town. And get this: he's the local high school basketball coach and a teacher in the public school! They're shooting themselves in the foot with their rotten attitudes, so while I'd love to get back at them, I will do nothing myself. I don't need to: they're doing it to themselves.

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Stan's advice, first. If you want to look for options, go to the actual zoning regs. Things like

  • changes in zoning since you purchased it might be a "grandfathered in" out.
  • exact definitions of "mobile home", "trailer", "manufactured home", etc may not really apply.Like you, their meanings are often "assumed".
  • Specific definition of the 30 day limit may only apply to specific units that must be predefined in the codes. It may also not require a movement from the property for a specific length of time but just proof that it was "moved".
  • Formally registered Complaints may not have used accurate terms to trigger this assault. If they said "mobile home", an RV is not. A mobile home, in most definitions is over 400 sq ft.
  • Look into combo structures that would be a lot less $, for instance, RV Ports, Structures that house the RV and extend its living space into a permanent structure.
  • Be clear that the zoning codes do not have specific exclusions to definitions like mobile home, trailer, etc. Again, exactness can work in your favor.
  • Many communities have a zoning exemption for living on the property in a non-permanent structure while permitted construction is underway but often, there are no specific time limit for the duration of that construction. Things like it must have something done to it at least once every quarter but putting in support posts could qualify to keep it an open permit until you can sell it.
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We once served on a zoning board and we have seen everything . It is a simple task to read the zoning as it applies to your property . If there are questions go to city hall and ask questions. In your case you were misinformed and "assumed" and paid the price.

The biggest problem with zoning laws are those that were written years ago and may not apply to the property now.

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Read the laws carefully. They can only enforce what is in writing and based on the defined definitions. It is not open to personal interpretation by the people in-powered to enforce the laws. They can only enforce what is in writing.

 

We had a round years ago getting a newly installed septic system inspected and approved by the county. The law only required vegetation in the spray field which we had placed in the woods with a small amount of lower growing native plants in the immediate area. The inspector was insisting that it had to grass in a 100' diameter area and the was all he would accept.

 

After I read the state laws (which governed) the county, I called the state to confirm my findings and they said the inspector was enforcing the requirement wrong. I called and told him what I had found and he needed to pass the system. He told me that I was not a septic expert and did not know how to read the laws. I am a retired mechanical engineer and dealt with specifications and requirements much more complicated than a septic system.

 

I called the fellow from the state back and told him what all was said. He decided to call the county and explain the law to him. Next morning we had the inspection approval stuck to the front door when I arrived at the building site.

 

Sometimes you have to move up the food chain to get things done properly.

 

Ken

 

Ken

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Guest Pensauncola

Read the laws carefully. They can only enforce what is in writing and based on the defined definitions. It is not open to personal interpretation by the people in-powered to enforce the laws. They can only enforce what is in writing.

 

We had a round years ago getting a newly installed septic system inspected and approved by the county. The law only required vegetation in the spray field which we had placed in the woods with a small amount of lower growing native plants in the immediate area. The inspector was insisting that it had to grass in a 100' diameter area and the was all he would accept.

 

After I read the state laws (which governed) the county, I called the state to confirm my findings and they said the inspector was enforcing the requirement wrong. I called and told him what I had found and he needed to pass the system. He told me that I was not a septic expert and did not know how to read the laws. I am a retired mechanical engineer and dealt with specifications and requirements much more complicated than a septic system.

 

I called the fellow from the state back and told him what all was said. He decided to call the county and explain the law to him. Next morning we had the inspection approval stuck to the front door when I arrived at the building site.

 

Sometimes you have to move up the food chain to get things done properly.

 

Ken

 

Ken

 

There's a food chain for septic systems? Gross.

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Guest Pensauncola

If you could stand the monetary loss, Donate it to the local 4H club. They always need land to teach kids how to grow gardens.

It would be a tax write off for you as well.

 

Now, that's really taking the high road. :)

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I hold the winning hand: I own the land, and I've heard through reliable sources that they really want to buy it and that they can afford my asking price easily. Their pathetic attempt at intimidation simply will not work. When and if they finally realize that there's nothing they can do except buy it from me, or another party buys it, I win. End of story.

 

In the meantime, my friends and other neighbors have offered places to park my RV nearby, so I can still come back here to maintain the land until it is sold.

 

Thanks again for the replies.

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  • 1 month later...

So, you can't put the travel trailer there. Maybe you can put a mobile home there. Much cheaper than a s&b house. You can put an rv pad in back and live in your rv and use the mobile as your studio. Plant tall hedges or put up a tall fence between you and the neighbors. Who is going to know where you sleep?

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