Is my property subdividable?
Can I start a home-based business here?
Are there height restrictions?
Zoning Map Example - Seattle

Buyers or sellers may ask questions like the ones above. The answers may often be found deep in the zoning code for a particular neighborhood or parcel.

Verify zoning jurisdiction

When questions about land use or zoning come in to our Ticor Title Customer Service team, the first thing we’ll do is verify which jurisdiction the property is in. This is important because zoning can be under the jurisdiction of a city or the entire county. There’s no point in calling Pierce County Planning and Land Services if the property is inside the city limits of Tacoma and vice versa.

To make matters more complicated, the same zoning code designation could be used by more than one city, and it could mean different things in different jurisdictions. (For example, R-4 in the city of Bellevue has a minimum lot width of 65’ while in Covington the minimum lot width is 30’. Setbacks, minimum dimensions, and height restrictions may be very different from city to city, even if they use some of the same codes.)

Your Ticor Title customer service team can help connect  you with  the right department where an engineer or technician will be able to answer your client’s questions with authority!

Connect with the right department

Click the image to download a printable version of this article.

It’s important to get the facts. Your client may be basing important decisions on the answers to their questions.  Zoning and related issues are subject to changes due to annexations and/or changing regulations. You or your client will want the most current and direct information possible. Your Ticor Title customer service team can help connect you with the right department where an engineer or technician will be able to answer your client’s questions with authority!

In some cases, the zoning classification may not be exactly what you or your client was hoping for. Fear not. There may be options. Check with the jurisdiction to see if they might allow a variance for a specific parcel. If all the neighbors in an area agree, it may also be possible to request a rezone that would affect a whole block or neighborhood. (Link to Map 1) In cases where the surrounding zoning is all like-kind, it may be harder to get a variance or rezone than if the neighborhood is a patchwork of different zoning codes.

King, Pierce, and Snohomish zoning resources

Consider CC&R’s

In addition to zoning regulations, another possible factor to consider may be CC&Rs. A change that fits within the current zoning code regulations may be prohibited by a property’s CC&Rs. For example, a property that is zoned SF 5000 in the City of Seattle may have maximum height of 30’ in the zoning code but the same property may also have a recorded view easement or plat covenants that limit homes on the lot to a single story. When the various regulations conflict, the rule of thumb would be to abide by the most restrictive among them.

To see the unincorporated county zoning on a map, check out these great sites:

Often cities will provide mapped zoning information as well, often in a PDF format. Here are a few examples:

Often cities will provide mapped zoning information as well, often in a PDF format. Here is a link to a great site with links to city web sites and municipal codes:

Be thorough in your research

As with many property issues, there’s more to than story than meets the eye. The information provided by your title company is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Buyers and sellers should always perform  thorough research before making any big plans or decisions. In fact, it might be a good idea to consult with a land use attorney.

Do you have thoughts or questions? Please share by commenting below!

  1. This is a priceless help!

  2. Hello,

    Me and my husband trying to sell our building (2 floor). We live in the second floor and the first floor we used it as storage (big space storage) used to be a grocery store (zoned as commercial) when the grocery was still active before my husband bought the building from the owner. Now that we are selling our building due to my husband has cancer we have 5 clients interested of buying our building most of them want to put 3 units and some of them they want to open a business on the first floor and live on the 2nd floors. They all went to the city they will not give them permit to open business on the 1st floor that giving us a big problem to sell our property. It is located on corner property would have been perfect to open a business or building 3 condos but we don’t have any luck with the city. Our broker and me and my husband very frustrated. The clients tried to apply for variance by the city says “NO”. This is very difficult because with our situation it’s adding another stress for us.
    Our building address is 1900 6th Ave west, Seattle WA 98119

    We are running of options and we don’t know what to do…:(

    Girlie Madsen

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