Massachusetts zoning laws regulate the manner and extent to which property can be used. An August 18, 2017 Massachusetts real estate case brought before the Land Court illustrates a land use dispute involving neighboring homeowners. One of the homeowners had requested that the town’s building commissioner take a zoning enforcement action against his neighbor, who operated a contracting business. When the building commissioner denied his request, the homeowner appealed to the local zoning board of appeals, which found that the neighbor’s activities did violate use regulations. The neighbor appealed the board’s decision to the Land Court.
The parties in the case lived in a Single Residence zoning district, where bylaws prohibited most commercial activities. Despite the bylaws, the neighbor and his crew regularly parked numerous commercial vehicles at his property, gathered for meetings outside, and effectively used his yard as a contractors’ storage yard. The homeowner who lived next door found these activities to be particularly disruptive, as did the rest of the neighborhood.
The Land Court found that many of the activities on the neighbor’s property were commercial in nature and prohibited under the bylaw. The neighbor, however, argued that his property had, as an accessory use, a home occupation. The local bylaw defined accessory use as that which is clearly subordinate and incidental to the principal building or use and, significantly, does not alter the character of the premises. A customary home occupation, using one or more rooms for an office or studio, is a permissible accessory use under the bylaw, as long as no more than two people are regularly employed, the residential appearance and character of the premises are preserved, advertising on the premises is limited, and no sales are regularly conducted unless incidental to the accessory use.