Permitted Uses, aka "Use by Right"

Community Planning and Zoning May 05, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

The term ‘Use by Right’ refers to a property owner’s use of property and structures in manners consistent with that which is listed as permissible in the zoning district in which his or her property is located. A ‘use by right’ is a use permitted in a zoning district and is therefore not subject to special review and approval by a local government. For example, the operation of a book store on property zoned for commercial uses would be considered a ‘use by right’. Other terms that may be substituted for ‘use by right’ include, principal use, permitted use, or primary use. An accessory use (to a principal use) is also considered a ‘use by right’.


A use that is considered a ‘use by right’ is listed within each zoning district in the zoning ordinance. Each zoning district in the zoning ordinance will have a different list of land uses that are considered to be ‘uses by right’ in that particular district. Those uses are allowed, without the need for major detailed local government review, so long as they meet the district standards and requirements specified in the zoning ordinance. One still needs to obtain a zoning permit, but that permit is usually issued relatively quickly, without going before a planning commission or other board. A ‘use by right’ is distinctly different than a special exception use or conditional use, which is only allowed after a review and approval by the appropriate local government board or commission.


For a proposed ‘use by right’ on a vacant lot, a property owner obtains a zoning permit from the local unit of government – the purpose of which is to ensure the use proposed is consistent with the standards of the particular zoning district. For instance, a property owner wishing to construct a detached single-family residence in a low-density, single-family zoning district may be required to obtain a zoning permit from the local government before proceeding with construction. The local unit of government might require this to ensure the property owner is aware of the regulations, including setbacks, structure size, and lot coverage, that pertain to the zoning district.


Brad Neumann, Michigan State University

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.