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Variance or exception for residential property zoned commercial for refinance purposes.

El Monte, CA |

I purchased a residential home zoned commercial -- seller fully disclosed. I am trying to refinance but every financial institute that approved me is not approving the property; due to zoning regulations of the city, the dwelling situated on the property cannot be rebuilt as a residence if more than 50% of the dwelling is destroyed. Banks require the city to provide an official letter stating that the dwelling can be rebuilt as a residence if 100% of the dwelling is destroyed. I spoke with the city and was informed that a variance is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

What are some ways to go about obtaining this "official letter"? I am at a disadvantage compared to a person in the same city who is similarly situated as me but own a property that is zoned residential.

My whole block is zoned "regional commercial" (C-3) by the city and more than 90% of the structures on the block are residences.

Attorney Answers 1


  1. It sounds as if you have a legal non-conforming use. Essentially, your existing structure is "grandfathered" in. The concept is that even though the zoning has changed to commercial, where your home was once legal, they won't make you tear it down and they'll allow it to be maintained as long as it is standing. You won't be able to add onto the structure or "expand the non-conformity." Likewise, you won't be able to re-build if it is mostly demolished, because they are really trying to phase out the residential homes and turn the area into commercial. I'm not sure what to suggest to you, other than (1) explore a zone change back to residential or something in between which would allow residential structures with the City; or (2) work with the lender - if they loaned originally under these circumstances, a refinance should not adversely impact the lender's interests. Perhaps if there is the ability to rebuild a bed and breakfast, for example, in that zone, you could appease both entities and get your place refinanced. If you are unable to work through this yourself, I recommend hiring competent local counsel who handles land use matters and is familiar with the City officials involved in the decision-making process, and who handles real estate/commercial matters and would be able to negotiate on your behalf with the lender. Good luck.

    I am licensed in the States of Idaho and Washington, posting a response to your question or issue does not create an attorney-client relationship, and I AM NOT providing you legal advice. I am providing only a general response to which you should follow up with competent local counsel. Only with the establishment of that relationship, can you provide licensed counsel with all pertinent facts and obtain an answer which will be tailored to your situation in your jurisdiction.

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