How to Check on Legal Nonconforming Use Law if Buying a Duplex
Check the zoning ordinance. You can review it at the local municipal building, or request a copy based on your State's open records law.
Usually, the ordinance specifies (i) whether 2-family dwellings are allowed; and if so, (ii) how large the lot must be for a two-family residence. Sometimes, additional requirements are imposed, such as the presence of off-site parking or garage facilities, double driveways, etc.
Make sure your purchase agreement addresses the issue in the form of a contingency covering zoning issues.
Each deal is different, but generally the contingency should allow you sufficient time to request and review the zoning ordinance, check your property's compliance, and apply for and obtain a variance or conditional use permit if necessary.
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