Field Guide to Zoning Laws & Ordinances

(Updated April 2016)

Zoning laws are found in virtually every municipality in the United States, affecting land use, lot size, building heights, density, setbacks, and other aspects of property use. This field guide features links to articles, books, and websites that will provide you with information on the concept of zoning, zoning's impacts on property values, and related topics. (H. Hester, Information and Digitization Specialist)

Source: Zoning Restrictions, (Houston Association of REALTORS® Consumer Knowledge Series).

E - EBSCO articles available for NAR members only. Password can be found on the EBSCO Access Information page.

Zoning Basics

How not to zone out on zoning, (Public Management, Jan./Feb. 2013). E

Understanding zoning ordinances, (Public Management, Nov. 1999). E

Understanding zoning, licensing, and permits, (Dummies Blog, 2012).

Zoning, (Wikipedia).

Impacts of Zoning

The Effect of Downzoning for Managing Residential Development and Density, (Land Economics, May 2016). E

How Zoning Regulations Impact City Development, (Market Realist, Jan. 2016). 

Balancing the ‘zoning budget’: Local governments need to consider the long-term effects of their land use decisions, (Regulation, Fall 2011). E

Effects of zoning on housing option value, (Journal of Business & Economics Research, May 2011). E

Measuring the Property-Value Effects of Local Land Use and Preservation Referenda, (Land Economics, Feb. 2010).  E

Unintentional redlining? Zoning ordinances and the living wage, (Real Estate Issues, Fall 2007). E

Housing costs, zoning, and access to high-scoring schools, (The Brookings Institution, Apr. 2012).

Zoning Board​s & Legal Issues

Overlooking Zoning, Codes Leads to Higher Costs, Value Impairment, (Real Estate Finance & Investment, June 2014). E

ABCs of local land use and zoning decisions, (Florida Bar Journal, Jan. 2010.) E

Buyer Beware: Today's distressed market puts a premium on due diligence, (CIRE Magazine, May-June 2009).

How to cope with zoning boards, (SmartMoney).

Contemprorary zoning conflicts: An evolving landscape presents new challenges, (Commercial Investment Real Estate, Jan./Feb. 2012).

How to research local zoning laws, (

Zoning Ref​orm

Zoning for and against sprawl: The case for form-based codes, (Journal of Urban Design, May 2013). E

Form follows function? How America zones, (Planning Practice & Research, Apr. 2013). E

Section 17: Form-based codes, (NAR Growth Management Fact Book, 2011).

Zoning for prosperity: Streamlined regulations and urban design guidelines as an economic development strategy, (On Common Ground, Feb. 2013).

Better Zoning through Breaking Old Codes: Form-based codes have emerged as a powerful tool for city planners who want to stop the sprawl that’s resulted from bad zoning rules, (Governing Magazine, Mar. 2011).

Brave New Codes: Cities and towns across the country are abandoning conventional zoning codes in favor of a new urbanist alternative, the form-based code. Some architects have embraced the change, but others are wary, (Architect Magazine, July 2010).

A new kind of zoning: Communities of all sizes are adopting form-based codes, (On Common Ground, Winter 2010).

The evolution of zoning since the 1980s: The persistence of localism, (Dartmouth College Department of Economics, 2010).

Useful Websites

The Codes Project: An Anthology of Regulations That Have Shaped Urban Form — A searchable archive of zoning laws, land use development codes, building design codes, and other influential documents, ranging from 360 BC to modern times. Online Library, (Municipal Code Corporation) — Directory of zoning and other municipal ordinance codes for many U.S. towns, cities, and counties.

Form-Based Codes Institute

eBooks & Other Resources

The following eBooks and digital audiobooks are available to NAR members:

Community Planning: An Introduction to the Comprehensive Plan

A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities

The Complete Guide to Zoning: How Real Estate Owners and Developers Can Create and Preserve Property Value (Adobe eReader)

Books, Videos, Research Reports & More

The resources below are available for loan through Information Services. Up to three books, tapes, CDs and/or DVDs can be borrowed for 30 days from the Library for a nominal fee of $10. Call Information Services at 800-874-6500 for assistance.

City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form, by Emily Talen, (Island Press, 2012).

The complete guide to zoning: How real estate owners and developers can create and preserve property value, by Dwight H. Merriam, (McGraw-Hill, 2005).

City economics, by Brendan O’Flaherty, (Harvard University Press, 2005).

Zoning and the American dream: Promises still to keep, by Charles Haar & Jerold Kayden, (Planners Press, 1989).

The economics of zoning laws, by William Fischel, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

The zoning game revisited, by Richard F. Babcock & Charles L. Siemon, (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 1985).

Field Guides & More

These field guides and other resources in the Virtual Library may also be of interest:

Field Guide to Downzoning

Field Guide to Inclusionary Zoning

Information Services Blog

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The inclusion of links on this field guide does not imply endorsement by the National Association of REALTORS®. NAR makes no representations about whether the content of any external sites which may be linked in this field guide complies with state or federal laws or regulations or with applicable NAR policies. These links are provided for your convenience only and you rely on them at your own risk.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.