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Understanding the Zoning Ordinances That May Impact Your Community

house in HOA neighborhood with for sale sign

There are hundreds of zoning ordinances in effect in many municipalities across the United States, including the city and county you live in. They cover a wide range of architectural, health, and safety standards that can help your homeowners’ association (HOA) protect and enhance its property values. While HOAs aren’t responsible for creating these ordinances, they can be valuable when reviewing architectural submissions and enforcing CC&Rs. Read on to learn more about HOA zoning ordinances and which ones may impact your community.

What are Zoning Ordinances?

A zoning ordinance is a rule set forth by a municipality or county that specifies how a particular region of land can be used. Generally, a zoning ordinance identifies the land that can be used for industrial, residential, or commercial purposes. In addition, a zoning ordinance may also regulate building height, lot size, and the placement and density of structures. You can typically find the zoning ordinances that apply to your area on your city’s official website.

What Types of Zoning Ordinances Affect My Community?

While each association is unique and zoning rules vary greatly by region, there are different types of zoning ordinances that could help inform the creation of new HOA rules, enforcement of existing rules, and much more. Here are the types of ordinances your association should know about:

Property Setbacks

Setbacks, which refer to the minimum distance a home must be set back from the property line along the front, back, and sides, help ensure the neighborhood has a harmonious look and provide each homeowner with a certain amount of privacy and yard space. Upon reviewing a homeowner’s proposed square footage expansion project, check the blueprint to verify compliance with setback requirements.    

Building Height

For a neighborhood to be aesthetically pleasing, a certain ratio must be maintained between the size of the homes and the size of the homesites. Building height ordinances exist to prevent super-sized homes from being built on postage-stamp-sized lots. Check to determine that all structures, including those detached from the home, comply with the height restrictions.

Outdoor Lighting

Nighttime light pollution is a hot topic these days. Dark sky regulations are designed to improve the well-being, health, and safety of both people and wildlife by increasing the visibility of stars and reducing the effects of electric lighting on the environment. Before you add lighting to parks, tennis courts, or even sidewalks, verify these ordinances, which often specify light shielding, fixture height, and illumination.  

Signage and Exterior Holiday Decoration

Signage ordinances often include size and material requirements, as well as how long a sign can be displayed and whether it can incorporate lights or motion. Special rules may apply to political, real estate directional, and homeowner garage sale signs.

Similar ordinances might establish standards for the size and condition of flags and how long holiday decorations can be displayed.


Unkempt, overgrown yards aren’t just unsightly; they can increase rodent infestations and decrease property values within the neighborhood. Many city ordinances stipulate maximum lawn height. To ensure drivers have a clear line of sight when approaching intersections, additional restrictions pertaining to corner homesites, medians, and areas near public sidewalks. In areas designated as natural, mowing is not allowed to permit wildflowers and native grasses to flourish.   

Swimming Pools

The CDC has estimated that ten people die every day from unintentional drowning, and 20 percent are children aged 14 or younger. Many HOAs operate community swimming pools. Even in communities without a neighborhood pool, many homeowners have in-ground or above-ground pools in their backyards. Municipal ordinances may require a gated fence around pools, detailing information about the location of the pool, height and material of the fence around it, and the closing mechanism of the gate.  

Home Offices

While it’s now common for people to work from home, many municipalities still have ordinances governing the types of businesses that can operate within a residential setting. Your HOA’s governing documents may or may not address home-based businesses. Refer to your local zoning inspector for further guidance on the acceptable types of businesses that can operate from a home-office setting.


Every homeowner is unique, and something that might be annoying to one might be considered just a part of daily life to the other. Examples include the occasional late-night party with loud music, a barking dog, or an unusual smell emanating from the barbecue grill next door.

If neighbors’ disputes escalate beyond the ability of the HOA to find an amenable solution, local zoning ordinances might be the logical next step.

Property Rentals

Does your community include homes listed on a vacation booking website like Vrbo or Airbnb?  While these types of websites might not have existed when your governing documents were written, most restrictions state that lots within the community are to be used for “single-family residential.” Many municipalities consider a lease lasting less than one month to be a commercial use of the property. While referencing this ordinance may be helpful in addressing issues that arise from short-term rentals, it’s imperative to consult your association attorney as soon as you notice any signs of misuse of property.     

Inoperable Vehicles

Curb appeal makes a huge difference, and an overabundance of parked cars on the street can become an issue. This is especially true if inoperable cars remain parked for days or even months in front of a home or in the driveway. To help combat this, some municipalities have stepped up enforcement of existing ordinances that require unregistered, inoperable, or partially dismantled vehicles to be stored out of sight, either in the garage or off-premises.

Why Relationships with Local Government Matter

One of the best ways to stay abreast of new HOA zoning ordinances is to develop a positive working relationship with local and elected government officials. In our article,
6 Reasons to Build Relationships with Your Local Government,” we highlight why getting involved with representatives, governors, and senators can benefit your community.