HOWARD COUNTY ZONING VIOLATIONS
What should you do if you get a zoning violation notice in Howard County? First, some background on the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning ("DPZ") is useful. DPZ's stated mission is: "To create collaborative, innovative plans and implement strategies that effectively address growth and redevelopment challenges. DPZ seeks to enhance Howard County's high quality of life, prosperity and stewardship of natural and cultural resources." As part of this mission, DPZ issues various zoning regulations contained in the Code of Ordinances and Municipal Code. These can be found online at www.howardcounty.gov. The Howard County Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and their delegates are designated to enforce these zoning regulations. If you received a zoning violation notice, the complaint could have been made by these zoning authorities or by a private citizen, even anonymously.
Once a complaint is made, it will be investigated by county zoning authorities. Action may or may not be taken, depending on what the investigation shows. Investigations can result in inspections of property, emergency remedies, and denial of access to property. The DPZ, upon becoming aware of a zoning violation, may institute an injunction, mandamus (court order to correct a public record or title), abatement, or any other action to prevent or stop the violation. A notice may be issued ordering a stop to the violation within 10 days or within a reasonable time specified. Such notice must be served personally or by registered mail. If the violation is not timely remedied, DPZ can take whatever action is necessary to end the violation. DPZ may enforce zoning regulations by issuing citations. These citations can be heard in court or in administrative proceedings.
If a violation notice is not issued, an aggrieved person may request that DPZ issue a written notice, fairly describing the property and alleged violation. This must be done within 60 days of receiving the written request. If no notice is issued during this time period, it means DPZ has decided that the violation does not exist. Thereafter, the complainant has appeal rights. If an appeal is taken, DPZ must send a copy of the appeal to the owner and occupant of the premises where the alleged violation exists.
If a violation is found, failure to remedy the violation is a misdemeanor with a monetary fine of up to $500 per day that the violation continues. There are also other civil penalties and enforcement remedies available to DPZ under the Howard County Code.
There are many types of potential zoning violations including for example prohibited placement of a structure, sign, improvement, or change of land use; failure to obtain a permit for improvements or land use; or prohibited use of land. Zoning violations and hearings are often complicated and time consuming. An attorney can be help a person facing an alleged zoning violation navigate this process. Katherine Taylor and Andrea LeWinter have assisted many clients who have received zoning violation notices, and those who sought to ensure that violation notices were issued to other landowners who were violating the zoning regulations.