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Should a township write a civil infraction citation against the tenant of a commercial building for violation of the zoning ordinance when the violation is the result of the tenant’s use of the rented space?

Most likely. There are often instances where a commercial development is owned by a single property owner who rents space to tenants on the property. Each unit within the development is often rented by separate tenants, and each unit contains a separate use authorized by the local zoning ordinance. In situations where the tenant has created a condition that violates the local zoning ordinance (such as signs), any notice letters and citations should typically be served on the tenant. The answer is found in the township’s zoning ordinance.

Most zoning ordinances generally provide that a “person” should not operate a use or maintain a condition in violation of the zoning ordinance. In these circumstances, the zoning ordinance makes no distinction between a landlord or tenant, thus the citation can be served upon the tenant who is maintaining the condition that violates the zoning ordinance. This remains true even though the landlord may have some control over the tenant’s activities through a lease agreement.

There may be circumstances where local ordinances require enforcement against the “property owner.” In these circumstances, careful consideration should be made as to whether the landlord or the tenant should receive the citation.

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