Municipal Bylaws and Demolition and Renovations to Historical Residential Dwellings

Real Estate

Posted in on March 14, 2014

Most people believe that a review of the municipal zoning bylaw is all that is needed to understand the existing limitations for the demolition, construction and renovations of residential dwellings. However, did you know that many municipalities over the past few years have passed what are known as “demolition delay” bylaws?

Such bylaws are thought to protect and preserve the historical integrity of towns and certain neighborhoods by delaying and/or otherwise constructively prohibiting the demolition or renovation of “historical” dwellings. A dwelling is deemed to be “historical” based upon its age. Some bylaws hold that a historical dwelling is fifty (50) years old while others define the age as seventy-five (75). A review of the local bylaw is needed to determine what age is applicable.

The bylaws generally provide that prior to the building inspector issuing a permit for the demolition, partial demolition, or certain renovations of a historical dwelling, the local historical commission must receive notice and approve the work. The factors used for commissions to make the determination are vague and if the commission does not approve the work, the building inspector cannot issue a permit for one (1) year from the date of the commission’s determination. One can only imagine the myriad of delays and unnecessary and unintended costs involved with the public hearings and the potential chill of sales in the current housing market.

The review of general municipal bylaws is not standard practice under Massachusetts real estate law. Before purchasing a dwelling, it is recommended that counsel be engaged to review the local general bylaw to determine if the town has enacted a demolition delay bylaw and any impact it may have on planned renovations, demolition, and reconstruction.