Notes & updates: None currently.

Land Use

Structure of the American Real Property System

Historically, in Colonial America, for example, there were fewer regulations on land use, perhaps because smaller populations and wide-open spaces seemed like there was nearly unlimited land available. As the economy and population migrated from a rural-agrarian to an urban-industrial society, government land regulation became important. This was especially true to local governments that were attempting to regulate industry, economy, and residential development. The first zoning ordinance was passed in New York City in 1916. As of the 1930s, most states enacted zoning laws. By the 1970s, concerns about the environment and historic preservation led to greater regulation.

Today, federal, state, and local governments regulate growth and development. Despite that fact, most land use control comes from actions of private developers, companies, and individuals. Three of the most common situations involving private entities and the court system are: lawsuits by neighbor against one another; lawsuits by public officials against landowners on behalf of the public; and lawsuits by individuals with ownership shares of land with disputes about their land. Adjudication and enforcement of private land-use arrangements can both reinforce public regulation and achieve forms and levels of control that zoning cannot.

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