Zoning is a necessity of land development, and while it doesn’t always work to the benefit of the tenants, it can help local governments create a more orderly structure for cities and mitigate major risks like crime, pollution, and overcrowded streets. If you’re interested in starting your own business or looking to get involved in real estate investment, you should understand the fundamentals of zoning, but the basics are fortunately not that complicated.

While zoning laws and regulations vary according to the municipality in question, most zoning regions fall into categories for residential, industrial, and commercial use. These allow cities and towns to help create a more orderly flow to their neighborhoods, but there are a number of complications that can affect the zoning regulations of an area. The location of utility lines is one of the most practical considerations to account for when looking at zoning regulations, but many cities put other standards in place to protect the ambiance, design, and cultural heritage of an area. These can include limitations on everything from architectural design to size and height to the number of rooms allowed. Many zoning regulations will also limit the type and size of additions allowed in a particular zone.

As a result, it’s important to understand the zoning requirements before moving into an area. Even if the area you’re moving to is zoned for the type of business or residence you want, there could be limitations that affect what you want to do, and it’s critical to consider potential growth or development of your property with zoning regulations in mind. If you’re planning on starting a brewery, for instance, you’ll have to consider whether space is zoned for commercial use if you want to add a bar into the property and keep in mind spacing limitations if you have any intentions of expanding.

There’s an understandable amount of push and pull regarding zoning regulations. Local government sees zoning regulations as a means to curate the development of their city, while business owners and residents can sometimes see it as an infringement on their rights. The courts have typically ruled that zoning regulations need to be concrete and serve the general benefit of the community, but there’s a lot of gray area regarding what that actually means.

Regardless of your intents, you’ll want to carefully consider the zoning regulations before investing in a property. If you have any questions about what the regulations actually mean, consider consulting with an attorney who specializes in land use so you won’t be surprised when zoning regulations get in the way of your ambitions.