Is Your Urban Homestead Breaking The Law?

22 February 2018
 Categories: Law, Blog


Rising food prices and concern about the environment has lead many people to engage in urban homesteading. Although this can be a great way to save money and ensure you are eating qualify food, it's important to be sure your local laws support your endeavors; otherwise, you may end up getting fined or worse. Here's what you need to do to ensure your personal farm is legal in your area.

Contact the Local Zoning Office

The first thing you need to do is contact your local zoning office to determine how the area where your home is located is zoned. Many people are surprised to learn that the law dictates what can be done to and on their properties. As cities increasingly urbanized, it became necessary to put restrictions on land use to promote peace and safety in communities. This is why retail stores and single-family homes are typically built far apart from each other, for instance.

When it comes to engaging in personal agriculture, your home must be in a zone that allows it. If your area isn't zoned for that activity and the local authorities find out you're operating a farm, you can be made to destroy it or be fined. This is also true if you do live in an area zoned for agriculture but your personal farm exceeds the limits (e.g. you are only allowed to have 4 chickens per ½ acre of land in Holland, MI and will be made to get rid of extra chickens if you have too many for your size property).

To determine what your home is zoned for, contact the local zoning board. Alternatively, many zoning boards have websites where you can enter your address and get your zone code, which you can then use to see what's allowed on your property.

Request a Permit or Variance

If you live in an area that's not zoned for agricultural use, all is not lost. You can still make your personal farm legal by requesting a permit or a variance. Basically, you'll be asking the city to make an exception for you and let you use your property to manage a farm even though it's generally not permitted by law.

You'll need to file the appropriate paperwork with the local zoning office. ( A real estate attorney can help with this.) Afterwards, there will be a public hearing to determine whether your request will be granted. Your neighbors will be able to voice their opinions about your proposal, so it's a good idea to talk to them beforehand about your plans and try to win them to your side to avoid pushback as much as possible.

Once approved, you'll receive a permit or certificate granting you permission to use the home for your urban homestead.

Although it sounds simple, obtaining a zoning permit or variance can be very challenging, a fight filled with lots of bureaucracy and red tape. For more information or help with the process, contact a local real estate agent.