Navigating Chicago’s Zoning Ordinances for Home Buyers

You’ve wound through the maze of Chicago homes for sale, found the one that’s perfect for you and are on your way to becoming its owner. But wait! Does your new property have older home additions? Or are you operating a home business? If so, then before you get settled in, it’s critical that you review and adhere to the City of Chicago’s zoning ordinances.

Failure to comply with these standards could mean steep fines of anywhere from $200 to $500—per offense. So now you’re probably wondering, “How do I know if I’m committing an ‘offense’?”

Well, here’s one example: if you buy a property from an owner that applied for a building permit way back in 1962, added a bedroom to the property, but never received final clearance on the work that was completed, you—the buyer—are now on the hook for ensuring the additional room meets today’s building standards. This means that unless you and the seller have made previous arrangement in which he or she will shoulder the burden of potential repairs, you are responsible for completing any upgrades needed to bring the property up to today’s standards.

If a home you’re interested in has had an addition, verify that the structure has been cleared by the city. Additions requiring permits include:
• Rooms, expansions or new floors
• Attic renovations
• Garages
• Gut rehabs
• Hot water heater replacement
• Porches
• Security alarms
• Fences

Beyond home additions, you should also know that there are special zoning requirements for those who plan to use their home as a place of business. Actually, the Chicago Zoning Ordinance has lots of rules you need to be aware of. For the purposes of your business, you may not:
• Alter the inside or outside of your home, either temporarily or permanently
• Display products on shelving for direct sale to customers
• Use more than 10% of the home’s floor space to conduct your business
• Allow your business to emit smoke, noise or any other element that would disturb other residents in the area

Whatever you do, don’t play the guessing game—if you’re unsure about the city’s guidelines on any addition or modification to a home you’re thinking of purchasing, your best bet is to dig deeper into the city’s ordinances. Start by talking to your Chicago real estate agent, and from there you can visit CityofChicago.com or contact a city representative.