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Thread: The case against the zero lot line house

  1. #26
    Sep 2003
    Baltimore, Maryland
    I agree with SAMouzon, natski, boilerplater and Gotta Speakup that all of these concerns are significant but solvable.

    The suggestions of 5' setbacks if the lots are wide enough, maintenance-access easements if they are not, sounds reasonable and according to SAMouzon, they often work.

    The problems natski describes sound like a matter of property lines not being clearly marked and of clear, simple rules not being laid out and explained beforehand to all parties (developers, builders and homebuyers) and enforced every time they are violated. Most homeowners are smart enough, and leery enough of lawsuits, not to encroach a slab or fence on someone else's land (or to lean a shed on a neighbor's wall) if they know where that land starts.

    1. Mark the boundaries clearly and set cut/fill, drainage, pest/flammable debris control, encroachment and access standards in simple, no-uncertain terms at the outset.
    2. Tell every concerned party clearly when they first get involved (such as requiring sellers/realtors to explain the rules in plain English to every new homebuyer and require both seller and buyer to sign a one or two page copy of the rules with an "I have read and understood..." statement, minimum one copy to be retained by each).
    3. Smack down hard on the first several violators.
    Most builders and homeowners will get the message and avoid problems, and the stubborn or careless who don't pay attention and cause problems anyway will be fewer in number and easier to deal with--signed documents greatly simplify enforcement actions and court cases, if the documents' intent is clear and enforcement is consistent.

    Not one of the concerns listed in this thread is truly intractable, and not one really supports any kind of universal "Case Against Zero Lot Line" homes, a phrase which falsely implies that such things are inherently, incurably bad and ought to be banned. Gotta Speakup is right that more options in housing and neighborhoods is a good thing (and I might add a very American thing, the kind of thing that increases freedom by enabling more people to shape their lives their own way, because frankly, one size does not fit all--urban, suburban, or rural--, never has, and never will.)

    Thread redirect: What are some of the specific solutions you guys have come across or implemented to these issues? In particular, what has worked, and how did it work.

  2. #27
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
    Aug 2006
    Gone to a better place (in my mind)
    I've been trying to answer my own question about the point of the zero lot line house, and it seems that the term "zero lot line" means something very specific (as I thought it might). Some definitions I found online:

    "Use of conventional zoning provisions which require that the home must be set back from every lot line is not always practical for small lots since the "yards" created on each side of the house are generally very small. Zero lot line houses are sited on one side lot line and sometimes also on the rear or front lot line to maximize the available yard space. [Planning for Affordable Single-Family Housing, p. 5] Placing the house on one of the side lot lines doubles the amount of useable space on the other side."


    "A zero lot line building* is a building that abuts one side lot line of a zoning lot and does not abut any other building on an adjoining zoning lot."


    “Zero lot line” means a displacement of a structure toward one lot line after the prescribed height and bulk of the structure have been calculated from setback and height regulations. . . The purpose of this reorientation of a building shall be to increase the effectiveness of the open areas.


    So although a rowhouse may have "zero lot lines" as it is attached to other houses via party walls, this is not what is meant by a zero lot line structure. The term refers only to structures with one wall directly on the property line (maybe two if the structure is shoved into a corner). Is this how everyone else defines it?

    If so, then I'm with this guy:

    "To some developers it is also thought to be easier to sell units that are “Condos” instead of telling people that what we have is “not really a condo,” but is a “zero lot line” instead. But I value simplicity. And a ZLL is so much cleaner in practice: There are no “common elements;” no ownership in common among all the unit owners; no council of co-owners; no HOA; no requirement for an assessment for maintenance; no lien for unpaid assessments; no record book; and no requirement to keep “resolutions.” Using a ZLL cuts down on the red tape."


    Anything that takes HOAs and condo associations out of the picture is fine with me.

  3. #28
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Emerald Coast
    And that blank wall at the property line makes for a great place to practice your tennis stroke and handball game.
    Habitual Offender

  4. #29
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
    Jun 2002
    Southeast US
    To JimPlans:

    I guess I'm a little confused as to what the definition of a "zero lot line" house is. Being a native northeastener, to me "zero lot line" means attached,
    Zero Lot Line zoning in our area allows required Side Yard space to be combined on one side of the lot.

    For instance, where zoing requires a 10 foot Side yard on each side, then the building may be located exactly on a side property line if the other Side Yard is increased to 20 feet. This is to allow for a more usable Side Yard (for a patio for instance). These are sometimes called "Patio Homes" in our area. Sounds nice, but one of the problems with that (of course) is that we seldom get a house design with a patio there, and we still have the problems listed in previous posts above.

    One other condition is that the whole subdivision or complete block must indicate which lot line will be designated as the one with the zero lot line condition at subdivision plat approval, so that we do not wind up with two houses having a common lot line. This would result in "attached" condition, which is not allowed in our Single Family detached housing zone.

  5. #30
    Jan 2013
    Oakland, ca

    Another concern for zero lot line owners

    We have a situation in San Francisco in which a large property with an existing 90 year structure and parking lot was divided many years ago into multiple zero lot line properties. Again, after many more years, a new developer is insisting on building in the old parking lot and directly onside the existing structure which was never meant as a zero lot line building. Should we be solely liable to upgrade the existing structure into a compliant zero lot line property. There is great expense involved as well as loss of many windows, skylight, roof drainage, access for repairs, etc. Anyone have any ideas?

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