Land use law involves conflicts between property owners and between property owners and the government. Nuisance doctrines, zoning regulations, and constitutional provisions such as the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments have shaped this area of the law. Courts have developed certain rules and standards to guide them in resolving these disputes. Below is an outline of key cases in land use law with links to the full text of virtually every case, provided free by Justia.
A private nuisance may arise when a property owner unreasonably interferes with another property owner’s use and enjoyment of their property. A court may consider factors such as the usefulness of the activity, the degree of harm that it causes, and its suitability to the area.
Dobbs v. Wiggins 一 A private nuisance is a substantial invasion of another party’s interest in the use and enjoyment of their land. The invasion must be either intentional or negligent, and it must be unreasonable.
Boomer v. Atlantic Cement Co. 一 When there is a large disparity in economic consequences between allowing a nuisance and granting an injunction, a court may grant the injunction conditioned on the payment of permanent damages.
Johnson v. Paynesville Farmers Union Coop. Oil Co. 一 The disruption to a landowner’s exclusive possessory interest is not the same when the invasion is committed by an intangible agency, such as the particulate matter in this case. These invasions may interfere with the landowner’s use and enjoyment of their land, but they do not require that the landowner share possession of their land in the way that invasions by physical objects do.
Fontainebleau Hotel Corp. v. 4525, Inc. 一 When a structure serves a useful and beneficial purpose, it does not give rise to a cause of action for damages or an injunction even though it causes injury to another party by cutting off the light and air and interfering with the view that would otherwise be available over adjoining land in its natural state. (This is true even if the structure may have been erected partly for spite.)
Prah v. Maretti 一 Private nuisance law has the flexibility to protect both a landowner’s right of access to sunlight and another landowner’s right to develop land.
Armstrong v. Francis Corp. 一 Each possessor is legally privileged to make a reasonable use of their land, even though the flow of surface waters is altered thereby and causes some harm to others, but incurs liability when their harmful interference with the flow of surface waters is unreasonable.
Zoning and Related Issues
Local governments generally can impose zoning rules as long as they are reasonable. Disputes may arise over a pre-existing non-conforming use of property, or vested rights based on reliance. In other cases, a property owner may seek a variance or rezoning for a future use.
Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. 一 A zoning ordinance is not unconstitutional unless it is clearly arbitrary and unreasonable, having no substantial relation to public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.
Village of Belle Terre v. Boraas 一 The police power is not confined to elimination of filth, stench, and unhealthy places. It is ample to lay out zones where family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and clean air make the area a sanctuary for people.
Town of Belleville v. Parrillo’s, Inc. 一 An existing non-conforming use will be permitted to continue only if it is a continuance of substantially the same kind of use as that to which the premises were devoted at the time of the passage of the zoning ordinance. A doubt as to whether an enlargement or change is substantial rather than insubstantial should be resolved against the enlargement or change.
Stone v. City of Wilton 一 Whether a property owner has vested rights in a zoning classification depends on the type of the project, its location, ultimate cost, and principally the amount accomplished under conformity.
Durand v. IDC Bellingham, LLC 一 The voluntary offer of public benefits beyond what might be necessary to mitigate the development of a parcel of land does not, standing alone, invalidate a legislative act of the town meeting. (A town meeting vote to rezone a parcel of land was not invalid because the prospective owner of the parcel had offered to give $8 million to the town if the rezoning was approved, and a power plant was built and operated on the site.)
Krummenacher v. City of Minnetonka 一 To receive a variance, an applicant must show that they meet all three statutory requirements of the undue hardship test: the property cannot be put to reasonable use if used under conditions allowed by the official controls, the plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to the property and not created by the landowner, and the variance will not alter the essential character of the locality. In addition, municipalities may grant variances only when it is demonstrated that such actions will be in keeping with the spirit and intent of the ordinance.
Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Mt. Laurel (Mt. Laurel I) 一 A municipality must presumptively make realistically possible an appropriate variety and choice of housing. It must affirmatively afford an opportunity for low and moderate income housing to the extent of its fair share of the present and prospective regional need for this housing.
Anderson v. City of Issaquah 一 A design review ordinance must contain workable guidelines. Too broad a discretion permits determinations based on whim, caprice, or subjective considerations.
Westchester Day School v. Village of Mamaroneck 一 Once a religious institution has demonstrated that its religious exercise has been substantially burdened, the burden of proof shifts to the municipality to prove that it acted in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and that its action is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. Generally applicable burdens that are neutrally imposed are not substantial. In reaching a burden determination, a court must consider whether the institution has quick, reliable, and financially feasible alternatives for meeting its religious needs, and whether the denial was conditional.
Contractual Restrictions on Land Use
Property owners may agree privately to restrict the use of land through covenants or equitable servitudes. These restrictions generally are enforceable if they are reasonable, although courts cannot enforce discriminatory private agreements.
Davidson Bros., Inc. v. D. Katz & Sons, Inc. 一 The proper test to determine the enforceability of a restricted non-competition covenant in a commercial land transaction is a test of reasonableness. (The court listed eight factors to consider in determining whether such a covenant is reasonable and enforceable.)
Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Association, Inc. 一 The use restrictions for a common interest development that are set forth in the recorded declaration are enforceable equitable servitudes, unless unreasonable. Such restrictions should be enforced unless they are wholly arbitrary, violate a fundamental public policy, or impose a burden on the use of affected land that far outweighs any benefit.
Shelley v. Kraemer 一 Private agreements to exclude persons of a designated race or color from the use or occupancy of real estate for residential purposes do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, but it is violative of the Equal Protection Clause for state courts to enforce them.
Due Process, Equal Protection, and Land Use
The Constitution provides that the government cannot deprive a person of property without due process of law. Meanwhile, the equal protection doctrine prohibits the government from denying the equal protection of the laws to anyone in its jurisdiction.
Miller v. Schoene 一 When forced to make the choice, the state does not exceed its constitutional powers by deciding on the destruction of one class of property to save another class of property that, in the judgment of the legislature, is of greater value to the public.
Village of Willowbrook v. Olech 一 The Equal Protection Clause gives rise to a cause of action on behalf of a “class of one” when the plaintiff does not allege membership in a class or group, but alleges that they have been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for such treatment.
Bonner v. City of Brighton 一 To satisfy substantive due process, the infringement of an interest that is less than fundamental requires no more than a reasonable relationship between the governmental purpose and the means chosen to advance that purpose.
The Fifth Amendment prohibits the government from taking private property for public use without providing just compensation. While some takings are physical, other takings may arise from regulations that deprive private property of its value.
Kelo v. City of New London 一 A city’s decision to take property for the purpose of economic development satisfied the public use requirement of the Fifth Amendment.
Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City 一 There is no set formula for determining when justice and fairness require that economic losses caused by public action be compensated by the government. Factors to consider include the economic impact of the regulation on the property owner, the extent to which the regulation interferes with distinct investment-backed expectations, and the character of the government action.
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council 一 When the state seeks to sustain regulation that deprives land of all economically beneficial use, it may resist compensation only if the logically antecedent inquiry into the nature of the owner’s estate shows that the proscribed use interests were not part of their title at the outset. A total taking inquiry entails an analysis of the following factors: the degree of harm to public lands and resources, or adjacent private property, posed by the claimant’s proposed activities; the social value of the claimant’s activities and their suitability to the locality in question; and the relative ease with which the alleged harm can be avoided through measures taken by the claimant and the government (or adjacent private landowners) alike.
Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection 一 The state as owner of the submerged land adjacent to littoral property has the right to fill that land, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of the public and of littoral landowners. Also, if an avulsion exposes land seaward of littoral property that had previously been submerged, that land belongs to the state even if it interrupts the littoral owner’s contact with the water. There is no exception to this rule when the state causes the avulsion.
Palazzolo v. Rhode Island 一 A Penn Central claim is not barred by the mere fact that the property owner acquired title after the effective date of the state-imposed restriction.
Murr v. Wisconsin 一 In determining the denominator of the takings inquiry, a court must consider the treatment of the land under state and local law, the physical characteristics of the land, and the prospective value of the regulated land. The endeavor should determine whether reasonable expectations about property ownership would lead a landowner to anticipate that their holdings would be treated as one parcel or as separate tracts.
Dolan v. City of Tigard 一 It must be determined whether an essential nexus exists between a legitimate state interest and the permit condition. If one does, it must be decided whether the degree of the exactions demanded by the permit conditions bears the required relationship to the projected impact of the proposed development. In deciding the second question, the necessary connection is “rough proportionality.”
Knick v. Township of Scott 一 A government violates the Takings Clause when it takes property without compensation, and a property owner may bring a Fifth Amendment claim under Section 1983 at that time.
Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid 一 The right to exclude is a fundamental element of the property right. A regulation granting labor organizations the right to take access to an agricultural employer’s property to solicit support for unionization was a per se physical taking.
This outline has been compiled by the Justia team for solely educational purposes and should not be treated as an independent source of legal authority or a summary of the current state of the law. Students should use this outline as a supplement rather than a substitute for course-specific outlines.