Construction Law

Construction contracts are a highly specialized subcategory of contract law. Most construction projects involve many parties, each with unique expectations, deadlines, and responsibilities. Architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and lenders all have to understand their rights and responsibilities. Failure to have an experienced construction attorney to negotiate and draft documents can lead to numerous headaches and unplanned expenses. Good planning should include discussion of mechanics liens, periodic inspections, bonding, timetables, and appropriate rewards or damages for early or late completion.

Zoning

Zoning regulations are a particular type of land use control. Their purpose is to control and regulate development and growth of a community in a way that is best for the general public. They attempt to accomplish this task by dividing a community into areas (zones) that can be used only for certain purposes.

Zones generally are divided into several basic categories–residential, business, industrial, and other purposes. Most cities further divide property into much more intricate specifications, such as single-family houses within a residential area, or zones that allow for the building of condominiums or apartments. Furthermore, an industrial section of a city might be split between areas zoned for light-industrial and heavy-industrial operations. In Texas, in addition to zoning land for certain purposes, municipalities also may regulate characteristics such as the height, number of stories, and size of buildings, and the percentage of the lot that may be occupied.

It is important to find out how a property is zoned, because this could have serious consequences on how the property can be used both at the present time and in the future. Zoning ordinances are changed through amendments. Such changes can be sought by an individual property owner or by local governments. The changes must be determined to be in the best interest of the community, and the opinions of persons affected must be sought through public hearings.

Another way to seek relief from zoning laws is through the form of a special use permit. Such permits make exceptions for uses of property that are not otherwise allowed under the zoning laws. Other ways around zoning laws include exemptions, which exempt a certain area of land from certain zoning requirements, and spot zoning, which rezone a small area or even one plot of land. These exceptions are allowed only if they benefit the community.

Land Use Law

In addition to zoning laws, there are other laws that mandate how a building can be built, how big or small it can be, and where it may be placed on the property. These specifications may be laid out in local regulations or in building codes. Building codes are developed to protect public health and safety. To ensure compliance with building codes, many municipalities require that property owners obtain building permits before they begin any type of construction or development. This requirement ensures that the proposed building meets the applicable codes before construction begins. Another way communities enforce codes is by issuing certificates of occupancy that allow legal occupancy in buildings that pass code requirements.

On shorelines, the state adds other rules regarding the size and shape of buildings as well as their location on lots to these local regulations. The additional regulations are intended to avoid adverse environmental consequences resulting from building construction.

Other kinds of land-use regulations serve to protect the environment. Any development that may have an effect on the environment must conform to local, state, and federal regulations. For example, the National Environmental Policy Act is a federal law that requires environmental impact statements and state approval for projects that could adversely affect the environment. Such statements detail the effects of projects on areas such as air and water quality, safety, and wildlife.

Water Law

With the purchase or sale of real estate comes air rights, mineral rights, and water rights. Water rights include the use of underground water as well as water that touches the owner’s property. Landowners whose property touches flowing water are “riparian owners,” which means they have the right to use the bordering water for reasonable and beneficial use, such as boating, swimming, and other recreational purposes. Riparian owners may not, however, legally divert the water to land that does not adjoin the stream or lake. An owner also may not use the adjoining water in a way that affects the quality or availability of the water further upstream, downstream, or down the coast. Thus, an owner may not pollute the water or change its flow. Texas has extensive laws relating to water rights, and this should be kept in mind before taking any action that will have a significant impact on any water source.

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