Definition of "Grandfather clause"

Joel Kramar real estate agent

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Harmony Homes & Land

The Grandfather Clause is an intriguing financial and real estate term. It defines a provision in a traditional policy that exempts an individual or business engaged in any activity under a new regulation.

According to the consensus, a grandfather clause or legacy clause enables individuals or business entities to go on with long-time approved activities despite implementing a brand new set of regulations. Authorities can accept temporary, long-lasting, or limited exemptions. 

This provision allows authorities to apply old laws and rules to particular cases enjoying grandfather or acquired rights. At the same time, they will use new regulations in all future situations. For instance, authorities can exempt a grandfathered nuclear power plant from new, more rigorous restrictions. Still, the new set of regulations will apply to new sections once they wish to expand the plant in the future.

Grandfather Clause in real estate

An old house, a feature, or a building doesn’t always comply with recent regulations. In other instances, newly adopted state and local government zoning ordinances and land use regulations would never allow the building of such homes. However, the grandfathered real estate enjoys certain privileges in non-conforming or grandfathered use because it was built before applying such new laws.

Timing is critical in claiming the advantages of a grandfather clause. 

Note, however, that they can invalidate a grandfather clause or grandfather use on a property in time once the owner doesn’t submit a claim. We also call a grandfathered use of a land a vested or protected right. You can inherit a grandfathered property but mind how you deal with your inheritance. To enjoy the perks guaranteed by the grandfather clause, you must prove the following first:

  1. Someone used the property when the new zoning ordinances or administrative codes came into effect.
  2. An individual used the real estate legally at that given time.
  3. You did not discontinue or abandon the use for a year or more after the local government passed the new regulations.

What are grandfather rights on a property?

The federal government's legislative branch designs grandfather clauses to safeguard individuals’ and businesses’ property rights. Otherwise, new regulations would negatively affect them, resulting even in a seizure based on the principle of condemnation

For instance, they could require already established businesses to change residence in compliance with a law in effect. Consequently, this relocation could result in financial losses and eventual liability caused by the lease agreement for the property. The legislation, called the grandfather clause, protects property rights and prevents said business ventures from being taken away.

An experienced real estate agent could advise you on securing your property rights grandfathered if you own a long-established business.

Comments for Grandfather Clause

Cris LaRue-Grantham Cris LaRue-Grantham said:

We purchased a home in 2020 there was a preexisting converted garage in the back yard and we have done nothing to this unit and we are receiving a code violation for supposed changes that we have not done and they said they showed up on the date they were supposed to inspect the property but never showed up and we reported it for harassment and then we received the letter of code violation stating that he inspected the house when he was not here on the date he was supposed to be and is giving us less than 30 days to correct something we haven't done and it was in the purchase of the house as is as a converted garage and we looked at the permits and it looks like they pulled permits when they made changes back before the 90's and are telling us we have to have it permitted for any work and we have done no work to that converted garage since we purchased this house in 2020 and saying that we are in violation of covered off street parking that we never had when we moved here

Jul 25, 2023  16:32:26

Real Estate Agent

Hello Cris! Thank you for reaching out to us!

Most importantly, we recommend you contact a professional real estate attorney or legal expert in your area! In addition, try to put together any evidence and legal documentation you have about the property purchase. A written form of your home appraisal would also be helpful. Then try to contact the former owners and see whether they can help you with any information regarding the converted garage. The best of luck!

Aug 03, 2023  11:00:56
Fred May Fred May said:

built my farm in 1995. put in a riding ring in 1995 and haqve been using it since. County after all these yrs has started to tax our riding arena. Upon checking they stated they just started to tax riding arenas. It is Not a structur. Stone dust and sand on top of grass. We feel that if they make changes this should be grandfathered it. Can you help

Sep 08, 2021  15:25:43

Real Estate Agent

Hey Fred! Thank you for reaching out to us. We are sorry to learn about the situation you're facing; however, it would be better to contact a real estate attorney given the particularities of these circumstances. Whenever it comes to laws and regulations imposed by local or state authorities, these can vary widely. Besides their expertise, by contacting a real estate attorney, you can thoroughly fill them in on the situation. They will have access to all the documentation concerning the riding ring you mentioned. There are situations in which the grandfather clause is applied, but a lawyer should verify this.

Sep 10, 2021  09:20:53
LONNIE Leroy Josey Jr LONNIE Leroy Josey Jr said:

My wife mother passed away. my wife selling house.The house was built in 1977 later on they added a concert patio.In 1997 they had a sunroom built 20'x20' on top concert patio.O Only 3 sides are on the concert the other end is attached to the house. The people wanting to buy the house got it inspected. Inspector said it had no footing. Footing would have to be done said cost $20,000. I do not no how deep the pad is and no signs of any cracking in the concert Can this be grandfather in

May 29, 2021  06:19:45

Real Estate Agent

Hey Lonnie! Thank you for reaching out to us. As far as we understand, this might be a situation where some secondary structures were built on the property, like the sunroom. This might be a case of building code violations. For this, you have to figure out what the building codes in your area are. As building code violations can be managed differently by every local authority, check what they are in your area. Selling a property with building code violations won't be easy unless you get the building up to code. The buyer won't get a mortgage if they decide to purchase the property, and they can also be a safety hazard. The best thing to do in this situation is to get the building up to code but be aware that the worst-case scenario might require you to tear down the structure and build it back up. The best-case scenario is a fine. But, as mentioned above, check what the local legislation is and find the best solutions for you and your budget. You can also talk with a realtor or a real estate attorney to verify your particular situation to make sure you chose the best action plan.

Jun 03, 2021  12:29:56
Janine Rachwal Janine Rachwal said:

our neighbors have decided not to allow us to fence off our property between their back yard and our garage. They are claiming a grandfather's right to this piece of our property. Is this possible to just hijack another's property?

Sep 13, 2020  07:50:30

Real Estate Agent

Hey, Janine!

We are sorry to hear that you haven't reached a consensus on the fencing situation. In this regard, there is not much we can assist you with other than advising you to get in touch with a real estate attorney, who is more than qualified in researching possible rights and claims to the piece of property and reach a conclusion.

Sep 28, 2020  08:27:31
Joe Hughes Joe Hughes said:

Bought a condo with a washer/dryer in and now after 10 years of usage they cut off our drainage of the washer. They said the grandfather clause would not be available if we sold the unit. We paid extra for the unit when we bought it 10 years ago. Can they discontinue the grandfather clause. We are one of just two units out of 84 that has w/d units in their apartments

Aug 18, 2020  12:53:24

Real Estate Agent

Hey, Joe!

In your situation, we can't really tell if discontinuing the clause is justified or not. We can only recommend you get in touch with a real estate attorney, and they would be able to help you out.

Sep 07, 2020  07:55:21
Jenny Jenny said:

I'm selling a house.

Aug 31, 2019  21:10:39

Real Estate Agent

Hi, Jenny! Congratulations on your decision! We understand the mixed emotions you must be feeling right now and we're here to help. Please call our customer service at 1-866-495-4953 or get in touch with one of the real estate agents in Torrance CA if you haven't already. Thank you for using our Directory. Let us know if you have any other questions. 

Sep 03, 2019  05:05:16
Dawn Smith Dawn Smith said:

I've been living @ the same apartment for 13 yrs. The property has been sold & there is a new landlord, that has sent me a 30-Day Notice To Quit. Do I have to move?

Mar 19, 2019  19:12:12

Real Estate Agent

You have given us very few details regarding the status of your apartment. Have you been renting the same apartment for the past 13 years and the previous landlord sold the apartment without informing you? Did they show the apartment to the new buyers? Nobody buys a property without seeing it first. Another explanation could be that your apartment has been sold by the bank. Have you defaulted on your mortgage? Then, this could be the most plausible explanation for the 30-day notice. In this case, yes, you have to move. 

Mar 20, 2019  17:29:23
Sue Chancy Sue Chancy said:

We have property, our home, for 11 years, our property is in the county, but we Re at He end of a cul de sac, where we were permitt d to put our driveway across the right of way of the city. The Road thru this area is a subdivision being constructed during the time of our attaching to the cup de sac. There has only one house ben built I. This development In 11 years....we were informed by the property owner that we are encroaching about 2 1/2 feet of pavement on his property and some greenery down the driveway is also,in his propoerty. We want to move the 2 1/2 feet of concrete and the plants off his property to eliminate our encroachment. THe City is telling us now that we will have to move our driveway off the right of way bear use the property owner does not want two driveways near the lot adjoining our property....there is. 15' right of way on each of our properties, Dos the city have the legal right to tell us to move our driveway?

Apr 25, 2018  19:44:23

Real Estate Agent

There's no simple answer to your question, Sue. 
We recommend you talk to a real estate agent or real estate lawyer so he/she can help you figure out zoning loopholes and try to fight for your interests in this matter. Good luck!

Apr 27, 2018  17:09:50
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