Many of the old homes in Massachusetts were built before the current local zoning bylaws were enacted. In many situations, the bylaws exempt these homes from a particular regulation by grandfathering them. In a February 21, 2019 case, the Massachusetts Land Court considered whether a town’s zoning bylaws permanently grandfathered certain uses of a property that existed before the original bylaws were adopted. The issue would determine whether or not the plaintiffs could build a new two-family dwelling on their lot.
The lot contained an existing two-family house, which had been built in the 1880s. For many years, and at least since 1950, it had been used as a two-family residence. In 2010, a fire swept through the house, leaving the building standing but ruining the interior. Due to the damage, no one had resided in the house for years after the fire, although renovations had sporadically taken place.
The plaintiffs sought to raze the structure and construct a new two-family house. The property, however, was located in a district zoned for single-family homes only. While the local zoning bylaw had grandfathered the existing, nonconforming two-family house, in order to build a new non-conforming two-family structure on the property, the plaintiffs needed special approval.