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How hard is it to change rezoning from residential to commercial?

by Emma Scott on 15 Jun 2021

Are you thinking about opening a business and operating it out of your residential property? If so, you are probably wondering how you can rezone your residential property to a commercial one. Rezoning may seem like a great way to avoid having to purchase or rent out commercial real estate, especially for those who are trying to get new businesses off the ground. But, there are many things an owner should know before starting the rezoning process.

This article will discuss what zoning is, the process associated with a zoning change and when it may be time to choose new real estate. At the end of this article, you will be able to know whether a zoning change is the best decision for you.

What is zoning?

Zoning is an urban planning method lead by municipal governments. The local planning commission surveys a plot of land and determines what it can be used for. There are various land-use restrictions based on municipal zoning laws. Here is a general example of how property can be used based on its zone:

  • Residential property: This is a property where a family, group of people or single person would live.
  • Commercial: Businesses like retail stores sell their goods and services on commercial properties while others use it as a space to host their office buildings.
  • Agricultural: This land is used for agricultural purposes like growing crops or raising livestock.
  • Industrial property:
  • Recreational property: This land is used for community recreation like sports or outdoor activities (e.g., public tennis courts, provincial parks, playgrounds, etc.).


A property's zone is determined before any structures are built on-site. Each type of zoning, as well as the property that is being zoned, comes with its own unique regulations. These laws will dictate:

  • How a property can be used
  • Where a structure or building can be located on the property
  • The types of structures that are permitted to be built and how they can be used
  • Other regulations like parking lot sizes, the distance a structure needs to be from streets, and other restrictions

Since zoning laws dictate what can and cannot be done on-site based on its zoning, anyone who is doing commercial business on a property designated for residential use could be breaking zoning regulations.

Assess your residential property

Changing zoning on a residential, single-family home is much more complicated than those may think. There are many standards that a property must meet to be zoned commercial property. This can take a lot of planning, time and effort to get a historically residential property to meet these standards.

Before moving forward with the process, assess your residential property to figure out whether it is worth your while to put in a rezoning request. Some things to consider are the building's accessibility, the impact of changing the zone of your property on your community and the cost that you will have to pay for the permit.

Also, consider whether this is the right choice for your business. Before you begin the process, Ask yourself questions like:

  • Will customers want to visit my business in this area of the municipality?
  • How could this impact the local community? (i.e., population or traffic density, pollution, costs of living, etc.)
  • Will I need to invest in accessibility? (e.g., a wheelchair ramp)

Talk to your neighbours

In Canada, those who are looking to rezone an existing structure will need both the approval of their neighbours and the local municipal body. This is because zoning impacts more than just the individual property, rather the entire community around it. Anyone thinking about going to the zoning board should speak to people around their neighbourhood and or attend a neighbourhood association's hearing.

Speak with members of your neighbourhood about the possibility of rezoning and ask for their support. Remember to bring forward the possibility of increased traffic, noise and other related issues to determine whether it would be worthwhile for the community as a whole.

Learn about local ordinances

Zoning ordinances (laws) are determined by the local municipalities. This means that they vary from area to area. Make sure to review your county or city's zoning restrictions for everything that you need to know. If you cannot find this information online, request official zoning documents from your municipal government's office.

A great way to learn more about the subject is to review a zoning map from your municipality. More often than not, a city is divided into different "zones". This map dictates residential vs. commercial areas to ensure that a municipality is planned and developed in a well-organized manner. The designated zone and development surrounding your residential real estate will give you a good idea of whether your request will be approved or denied.

Appeal to your local zoning board

After you have decided to move forward with the process and pay any necessary costs, visit your county or city building to receive the required appeal documents. Fill them out to the best of your ability, then submit your request to change your residential property to a commercial property.

Filing a rezoning request is a legal ordeal, just like any other matter. Most of the time it will go without issue, but some issues may arise. If you have concerns about the process, contact an attorney and request their services.

When to consider real estate

The time, effort, and money that is associated with legal matters like changing the zoning of a residential property can seem like an overwhelming and tedious task. Those who are not up to the challenge should consider taking the commercial real estate route instead. This is the same for those who have received a notice that their planning commission denied their appeal.

Rezone to a commercial property

Changing residential properties to commercial zoning is not an impossible task. Many have done it before and many will continue to do so. The only issue is that there is a great deal of variance in how difficult, long and expensive the process is. The situation, government body, place and cost will determine how easy it is to change zoning.

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