Top 10 Things Churches Need to Know About Zoning
- 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.
- 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.
- Check zoning laws in advance. If you plan to purchase land or expand your present facilities, check with municipal officials before you shop.
- Get legal advice from a lawyer well-informed about zoning and real estate issues.
- Spiritual warfare can be a factor. If your church is building the kingdom of God, be prepared for opposition. Such battles are not won with lawyers, realtors, or money, but with prayer, fasting, discernment, gentleness, and patience.
- Spiritual warfare isn't always the main factor. Don't over-spiritualize the battles or demonize those opposed to you. Neighbors worried about traffic, parking, lighting, or drainage may have legitimate concerns.
- Most cities are not in compliance with the law. Our study of over 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).
- Cities cannot discriminate against churches. RLUIPA requires that "religious assemblies and institutions" must be treated the same as "non-religious assemblies and institutions" under zoning laws. This means anywhere a city permits a community center, theater, or other facility for non-religious assembly, it must also allow a church.
- The city may have to pay your legal bills. RLUIPA allows a church to recover legal fees from a city if the church is damaged by a violation of RLUIPA. Pointing this out to a city may help avoid litigation and motivate the city to cooperate.
- There's help. Most law firms that are part of The Christian Legal Society will provide free consultation for churches concerning zoning problems.
John Mauck is a Chicago civil rights attorney with Mauck & Baker, LLC (www.mauckbaker.com), concentrating on zoning law. He helped write RLUIPA.
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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