If you are from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey or New York, there are some things you should know before you buy Vermont real estate, whether it is open land, a house, or a condominium. Vermont has some of the strictest land use laws in the United States and it is best to find experienced, local help if you are contemplating the purchase of Vermont property.
Act 250 Permit Considerations
If you are looking at buying property or a home in Vermont, you should know what Act 250 is and how it could affect you. Vermont’s Act 250 is one of the most restrictive property development regulations in the United States. It is designed to protect both the character of Vermont communities and to safeguard the state’s natural resources.
Act 250 establishes rules for where and how property can be developed. If you buy Vermont real estate, your property may be subject to an existing Act 250 permit or to the Act 250 regulations that govern what structures may be built on the property, where those structures may be located, what uses the property may be put to, and what natural features must be maintained and protected. Under Act 250, any development you wish to undertake, which can include something as simple as putting up a shed, could be subject to Act 250 review.
For those living in states with less restrictive land use regulations, the extent of Act 250 regulations can be an unwelcome surprise. Before you buy any property, you should plan to have an experienced Vermont attorney conduct an Act 250 review and a review of other state permitting files, such as state wastewater permits, as well as a title search in the land records.
Under Vermont law, in municipalities that have adopted zoning regulations no development can occur without a permit issued by the zoning administrator. Vermont zoning is therefore an ever-present consideration for buyers. In fact, zoning violations, or the lack of a proper permit, may cause title to your prospective property to be unmarketable and uninsurable.
The zoning process in Vermont can be complex, and efforts to obtain a permit can involve multiple layers of appeals. The zoning regulations governing a property that you are considering purchasing must be considered before you close on a purchase. For example, if you are contemplating significant alterations or additions to a house for sale in Vermont, or if you are looking to develop a property after purchase, a review of applicable zoning regulations pre-purchase is critical to protect your investment.
Often people from other states are surprised to learn that it is a considerable feat to obtain a variance in Vermont; as a rule, these are only granted in Vermont if zoning laws make it impossible for an owner to reasonably use their land.
Water Supply and Wastewater Disposal Regulations
Vermont’s regulations relating to water quality can severely limit the development of real property. These regulations govern the design and location of wells and septic systems. In most rural parts of Vermont, it is critical to understand soil quality, as well as the accessibility of a source of potable water, before you buy property with the intention of building a house. Before any purchase, it is necessary to review wastewater disposal and drinking water regulations and associated permits.
Vermont law regulates development in and around wetlands, and Vermont’s regulations are in addition to Federal wetlands regulations. There are three classes of wetlands in Vermont. Class I wetlands are the most protected and the most rare. Class II wetlands are substantially more common and there is a presumption that any wetland greater than ½ acre in size is classified as a Class II wetland. Development in and within 50 feet of a Class II wetland is heavily regulated and a permit is required for any such development. Class III wetlands are unregulated. Wetland classifications last for five years and, therefore, any buyer of property where there may be a potential wetland should review existing wetland permits, determine if the property is in conformance with the permit, and assess whether the wetland has changed since it was last classified. Furthermore, if there are wetlands on a property and future development is envisioned, a prospective buyer should assess that development’s impacts on those wetlands and prepare to obtain a wetland permit if necessary.
Vermont has new, strict regulations on the development of waterfront property. The Vermont Shoreland Protection Act regulates activities within 250 feet of the mean water level of lakes greater than 10 acres in size. The intent of the Act is to allow some development along Vermont lakes, while protecting aquatic habitat, water quality and the natural stability of shoreland. Restrictions in the Act limit tree cutting, gardening, access paths, lawns, and impervious surfaces – including houses, sheds, decks and driveways within 250 feet of the shoreline. It is critical for any buyer of shoreland in Vermont to understand these restrictions as these regulations may have a significant impact on the value of any investment.
Get Experienced Help Before You Buy
Vermont real estate should never be purchased without the guidance of an experienced Vermont real estate attorney. An experienced attorney can examine a property for any title or Act 250 encumbrances, explain zoning regulations, and help you understand whether or not a property can be developed in a way that you desire. Even if you are simply buying a home in Vermont as-is, it is worthwhile to engage a real estate attorney to help ensure there are no clear nonconforming uses or permit issues that would require modifications upon a transfer of ownership.
MSK Attorneys has extensive experience in residential, commercial and rental property real estate law in Vermont. We work with individuals, municipalities and developers to navigate Vermont’s complex web of state and local land use regulations. We will help you assess the suitability of a property for sale and for a particular use, and we can help you plan modifications and development that will pass regulatory scrutiny.
Before you buy, contact a real estate attorney from MSK. You can contact us online or call us at 1-802-861-7000.