At MyLawQuestions, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is a Grandfather Clause? Unveiling Its Historical Significance & Impact

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
What is a Grandfather Clause?

Navigating the complexities of urban development, it's not uncommon for new regulations to render existing structures non-compliant overnight. For instance, when the International Code Council released its 2018 updates, numerous buildings suddenly fell short of the latest standards. To mitigate this, governments often employ what is a grandfather clause—an exemption that spares current owners from the burden of immediate compliance. This clause ensures that while a historic eatery may operate under old codes, any new establishment must adhere to the stringent, current safety regulations. 

The concept of the grandfather clause arose during the segregationist Jim Crow period that followed the U.S. Civil War.
The concept of the grandfather clause arose during the segregationist Jim Crow period that followed the U.S. Civil War.

A grandfather clause may also extend to private home ownership and zoning. If a new zoning regulation called for 10 feet of clearance on all sides, it would not be practical to physically move all of the current homes built before the zoning change. A grandfather clause would allow exemptions to homes built before the zoning change went into effect. It is important to note, however, that not all contingencies are automatically covered by a grandfather clause. Some changes require everyone affected by the law to take action, regardless of the age or condition of their home.

The current usage of the term grandfather clause is fairly benign, but the history behind the phrase is not. The original grandfather clause concept arose during the segregationist Jim Crow period following the Civil War. In an effort to discourage African-Americans from voting, laws were enacted in certain southern states which restricted voting rights to those who could prove an ancestor had legally voted before 1857. Since slaves could not legally vote before the Civil War years, their descendants were also deemed ineligible. Jim Crow voting laws were eventually struck down, but the idea of a grandfather clause remained.

For the most part, a grandfather clause benefits those who would otherwise face financial or personal hardship under new regulations. Occasionally, however, the practice has been used to allow unsafe businesses to continue operating without new oversight. Lawmakers must walk a line between the interests of the business community and the interests of private citizens. Grandfathering may not remove a current point of contention, but the new laws and regulations can make sure it is the last of its kind.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.
Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Our Editorial Team, made up of seasoned professionals, prioritizes accuracy and quality in every piece of content. With years of experience in journalism and publishing, we work diligently to deliver reliable and well-researched content to our readers.

Discussion Comments


I live in a mobile home park under new ownership. Many people in this park have been here for many years and own their homes. The new owner says that we have to upgrade our homes by either buying a new one or install peaked roofs and siding and moving our homes over from their present location to a location as little as 1 foot over. About 80 percent of the trailers are 40-plus years old and can't be moved.

Either the work is done in 60 days or we have to sign our homes over to him and move out. Most of the people are on fixed incomes or low income families and barely make ends meet.there are elderly and disabled children in this park and he also is raising the rent. He gives us 30 days to sign the lease and give him an answer on whether or not we are staying. With the list he gave each tenant and the 60 days we have before he says we get evicted, he offered every person 2,000 for their homes if the rent was in good standing but that's only after we sign our homes over to him. Is this legal?

All the people in the park are scared they will be homeless and with the price of rent in this area, we including myself and family, will be homeless.


I have had my property for about 25 years in small town Iowa. It was built in the 50s and had a well instead of city water. This was originally a bottling works. They have allowed this for all the time I've been here, in spite of an ordinance passed which disallowed wells and required city water in all buildings with human occupancy.

In fact, they were apparently only charging minimum sewer fees before I bought the place, then wanted me to install a water meter on my water line to determine sewer fees. This I did in the first year or two -- I don't recall exactly. Now they are forcing me to cap the well and hook up to city water.

Seems to me this should remain grandfathered until such a time as building is destroyed etc. Do I have a defense for keeping my well? They have filed in court now to do this and fine me. etc .,and say they will do it and charge me if I don't. This has got to be a $5-10,000 job due to no basement and running a water line 75 feet from the front street to the back of the building where all the plumbing is.

(I don't think the mayor likes me.)


I want to purchase a property that was licensed as a business, but is in between commercial and residential zoning.

The previous owner had a license to conduct business with the city and county, which he have not renewed since 1991. I would like to buy it, but the city is telling me I cannot open a business here because zoning wouldn't let me. Would I be able to grandfather in the right to do business if I buy it?


I started renting a home in PA and my neighbor keeps spraying weed killer into my yard, killing at least 1 to 1/2 feet of grass on my land. She has been asked to stop spraying into my yard, but she says that she has been spraying for 20 years and she will continue doing it.

I talked to the police, but they said that they could not do anything because I am not the owner of the house. Is there anything that I can do legally to have her stop?


My name is David. I just got my birth certificate from Canada. My mother told me that my name was David and she got everything in that name and told me that my birthday was July 29, 1958 but on my birth certificate said it is July 30, 1958, and my name is Joseph. I've been living here all my life, but my mom told me that the birth certificate is worrying.

My father went ant got it for me and sent it to me because I need it so I could get my passport trip and I do not know what to do. Please help me because I have everything listed as David and whether I need to change it to Joseph.


I've lived in the same apartment for five years and have been allowed to have a cat with no fees. Now they are telling me I have to pay a deposit for the cat plus $20 a month for the cat's rent. Aren't I grandfathered in since I've had the cat since I moved in? I live in northern Kentucky.


I signed a rental lease with the landlord to rent the back house. I just found out that the landlord never applied for a permit to have the house built. What are my rights?


The HOA governing socuments for our community expressly forbids “a trailer, recreational vehicle, boat or similar vehicle to be stored, kept or parked contiguous to, on or about any lot without the express advance written authorization of the Architectural Control Committee.” The words in quotes are the exact extract of the relevant covenant.

In 2006, the vice president of the construction company associated with the community stated in writing that a trailer belonging to a specific home owner was grandfathered into the community and that the trailer’s current location on the driveway was acceptable to the company and is therefore acceptable to the community. This is an extract of a letter from the relevant CAM. It is believed this need for grandfathering rights was because the relevant homeowner was the landscape contractor for the community, which will shortly not be the case as the contractor does not wish to continue community landscaping.

Can you tell me whether the relevant vice president had the power to grant such grandfather rights in the first instance and if so could this be reversed? The construction company has no longer any involvement in the community which has only been in place since 2002.


I live in martinsburg wv and I live on .59 acre with a trailer. I share the well and sewer with another trailer but the sewer system is under my trailer. Can the health department make me move if there is no issues with the sewer?


I am interested in the answer to Post 50. I have shared a well with my neighbor in VA for 27 years. Now, I want to sell my home and they are threatening to shut off the water. There is no deed or written document for the well. Can they shut the water off? Is there any supporting case law?


I bought a house 10 years ago and put a shed on it within that first year. Now they tell me that it is not up to code. They gave me two months to bring it up to code. I don't have the room to bring it up to code, so now I have to go to court and the fine will be from 50.00 to 250.00. Does the grandfather clause fit into this.


if a home with a shared well is sold, is the remaining owner liable to provide a well for the new owner if no contract or deed is in place?


My step-daughter is renting a house in California and wants her mother who is using, to leave. Her mother says that since she has been in the house for 30 days, she can invoke the grandfather clause. Is this right?


My family has lived in a town in California which is considered Los Angeles County for 50-plus years. we are a towing business, we were under contract with the LASD Sheriff Dept, CPH, Auto Club, Allstate, and many others. My father and only one other towing company were here for years. We now only tow for the California Highway Patrol, and are on rotation with five or six other towing companies. We have been in the same location and running the business at my father's house.

Now the county says we cannot keep running the business because the property is zoned residential? There is a library right across the half paved street (only the library side of the street is paved). We have never had a complaint from any neighbors. The main highway is in rock throwing distance, and there is a True Value Hardware Store on one corner and a repair shop and a restaurant, etc. we were already here before any of the other businesses and before most of the people who say he can't do this were born!

my father, who will be 97 years old, would like to know if there is anything in the grandfather clause that would allow him to continue his well known business? which has served the county, state, and community 24 hours a day for the last 50+ years? I think he deserves a little consideration? I really hope someone can help? Thanks for your time!


we live in a condo that was built in the 70's. We do not have handrails on all of the stairways. if a homeowner installed one while they were living there, is it allowable to remove it if they sell their unit? Or once it is installed and brought to up to present day code, do we have to leave it there?


I have owned my property for over 30 years and just recently the city is telling me that my guest house and garage which were on the property when I bought it must be torn down because permits were not pulled for them.

I don't have the money to do this and I would lose rental money from my guest house causing extreme financial hardship for my family. Does the grandfather clause come into effect?


I live in Canada and in a mobile home park for the last 22 years. No lease and only one rule do not build a garage. In 2006 new owners purchased the park. Since that date it has been nothing but threats, intimidation, emotional stress, and more.

The new owners are trying to enforce unreasonable rules and regulations. Complaint against us because our second vehicle not registered for the road (we plan on putting it back on the road in the spring). Given 24 hours notice to remove car at our expense. Complaints we have submitted over the past four years have been more or less ignored.

Does the grandfather clause apply in this situation? Please answer as the Rentalsman says there is nothing they can do.


My daughter and son in-law purchased a home with very nice views, in a planned community with covenants. The covenants are enforced by the committee of architecture. People can ask for a variance if they want to do something that is not allowed in the covenants. The covenants state that you can get a variance if it does not affect the values of the property of your neighbors.

Her neighbors are asking for a variance because she wants to put a 48'X30' barn 80 feet from the rear property line and the rear set back is 150 feet. If it is allowed it will block their entire view of Pikes Peak. They are arguing that since their house was built in 1970 that the rules don't apply to them, but the covenants were made in 1969, and they didn't buy it until 2006. Since they are not the original owners does the Grandfather clause still apply?


I have been a provider for my disabled mother who is a client through IHSS (In Home Supportive Service) for about nine years.

Recently in 2010 they changed the law, saying if anybody has a criminal background of fraud or adult abuse in the last 10 years, they will be terminated. This law wasn't in effect when I was first employed. I do have a case of fraud eight years ago. I'd never been convicted of any crime before that or after that. And I have a foster son of 7 years who I am now the legal guardian of. The state exempted my record for that.

I have a medical statement stating moving my mom from her familiar environment will be highly stressful and not recommended due to her poor health. Are there any type of loopholes that could help me appeal this decision?


We have owned a camp ground for 10 years, and it was approved and passed by the county zoning board. It has been here for 18 years, then all of a sudden the state appears and they state it was never state approved, and now they want a drawn plot of water lines, electric, toilets.

It is a small camp ground total of 38 camp lots, 14 water hydrants, two concrete toilets and the engineer wants $8,000 to draw up the already done plans.

This is in the state of indiana. We opened in 1993, we have all the papers where it was county approved. Does anyone have any ideas for a loophole in the strict state rules? We have two homeless families. The camp ground does not generate a lot of money to pay all the fees etc. We hate to close it down and it's been here for a total of 18 years. Help.


You would have to check and see when they passed the by-law if there is one that says you can only have four pets? And if the cats were there before the by-law, you should have a good chance of keeping them, but I lost my grandfather clause action because no one was willing to listen.


can one keep their pets? my mom has 15 cats in her house, but they are well kept and clean. the city told her she can only have four pets. do we have to give them up? is there a grandfather law so we can try to keep them? thank you.


I live in Lancaster CA, in a rural area, and therefore under the LA County codes instead of city. We just had a solar panel system (lease) put up, and in the permitting process the solar people included a Google Earth satellite photo. The county saw our shed and is now wanting a permit for it.

It was on the property when we bought it in 2001 (as was a wood deck w/jacuzzi). They are saying they need engineering specs for it, and the shed

is between 20 -25 years old and we can't find them. The manufacturer doesn't have any, saying they quit building these in 1987.

We asked the county about grandfathering and were told no - that they have "been using the same codes since 1918." Is that possible? In addition, they just sent us an e-mail saying they now want pictures of our entire property.

We don't know if the previous owners (who

built this house in 1978, and got permits for the house and subsequent remodel in 1986) got permits for any of the other stuff they did: Brick wall surrounding a portion of rear yard, extensive concrete around one-third of the house, brick pillars within fencing in the front yard, the deck mentioned above.

Do you have any suggestions for us? I saw in your description that grandfathering was to help for those it would be a financial hardship to comply with new changes - and that's exactly where we are. We feel almost like we are being harassed at this point.

We try to do what the gederal, state and local governments are encouraging us to do (go green)

and now we're being hit big time for it. If we could even *get* the shed approved it would cost over $700. Who knows how much anything else that they might require would add up to. We don't have that.

Nor do we have the money for storage, or to by smaller non-permit-sized storage buildings. We are even being told by some people that the county will charge us a permit to remove (demolish) any non permitted structures. We feel so stuck!

Any help or advise you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Dani J.


In our condo declaration we have no rentals beyond 20 percent allowed. We are now at 30 percent and rising. Can the owners who do not live on site now rent out their units every time a renter leaves and a new renter comes in?

Once the grandfathered tenants move out are the owners who rent their units allowed to get new un-grandfathered tenants with the 30 percent occupancy rate?


Las Vegas Nevada: What happens if the city wants to re-zone an area? Or if the small business in an attempt to keep up with the cities housing needs, operates their business not within the zoning for that area?

If our small business is operating under a grandfather clause, aren't we exempt from new city zoning or if we alter the way we conduct business to meet the needs of the area.

I think it is unfair for the city to punish us, because of its re-zoning attempts. I also like all businesses, over time changes are vital to success.

Thus, altering the way a business operates should not be a concern for the city, as long as all fire and other city codes are met! pdg(St.P) las vegas


Can a condo board set up new rules like charge unit owners a move in fee?

I was away on extended assignment and i rented out my unit. When I moved back in the elevator security fee was kept as a move in fee. The board said it is a new move in fee.

No one I spoke to was aware of this fee until I brought it up. The board continues to make up new rules with notifying owners. They just add it to condo rules and expects everyone to follow. I am sick of this. Must they follow a condo grandfather clause?


A neighbor said a tree on my land is leaning towards her house and she is afraid it will fall. She said I would be liable for the damage if it fell on her house. I don't have the money to have it removed right now. Is she correct?


My mother gave me a lot in the mountains.

She let the neighbor put a gas tank on the lot several years ago. We want to put a driveway where the tank is. Can we make the neighbor move the tank off my lot? Someone said something about a grandfather clause. This is in Tennessee.


my parents bought their home more than 20 years ago with a room and a bathroom downstairs (part of a two-car garage). They are remodeling now but the city wanted them to legalize the room.

To legalize it, they will have to retro-fit and the cost will go up to $100,000. Does the grandfather clause apply? They do not have the money to legalize the room. They are thinking of taking the bathroom and the room out and not even have any room anymore, but to tear down the room, it would cost around $10,000. Please advise.


I live in PA, in what was a very agricultural area and now apparently they have had some rezoning in that area and are making a lot of the properties residential. There is one in particular which has had sheep, but the sheep have been removed for a period of time and the individual wants to bring the sheep back. She has been told that even though the property was "Grandfathered" agricultural, because she changed the property(by removing the sheep), she is not allowed to bring them back. I believe this is unfair and that once it was "Grandfathered" agricultural, it should remain, Please tell me right or wrong. And should we fight this legally.


Should the owner of the property be able to subject people to black mold by doing cosmic cover up and not let the people know of the problem when the readings on the mold is astronomical. The news has been notified and the county health has been notified and no one wants to do anything about it. They say it is not their concern what an owner does to rent his places is his business. I feel this is wrong -- it should be a priority of the health board of the goings on around a place with such high counts and the news should be involved if only to make the owner aware of what he is doing. It is not right considering some molds can kill you and harm you.


I live in a complex where it is not a sanitary environment with sewers, black mold, and other things going on the county has deemed the owner to be in violation of 2 units with the sewer and the owner seems to think he is above the law. One of the sewers are above ground and the water runs down and into the lake, the other one is broke under the ground and has a large sheet of metal lying over it and unprotected from any small child wondering around it and may fall in the oder is out of the world and everyone around here is affected by this that lives around here and he won't do anything about it. Does the grandfathers clause roll over when a new owner buys the property? --Truly Concerned


Hi Debbie,

Well I would get in touch with your local a university or if you have a lawyer referral service like we do in Canada you get a 1/2 consultation for 10 or 25.00 that would be your best bet I would think. Or if you have a local university Law Program their Students might be able to help you out.

Because I know there is the Pet Grandfather Clause or Law that if you have a pet and they say no pets you would be under the Pet Grandfather Clause. I hope this helps.


I live in a small city in NY state and they changed the code as to how many dogs we are allowed to own. Wondering how to find out about grandfather law ?


How long does something have to be on a piece of property to be grandfathered such as a building?


Hi Barb,

Thanks for the information about going to the local news.... I just can't believe that these people are getting or trying to get away with these things. Soon with all their rule and laws they might as well just put everyone in prison cause that is how I feel in my own home now. People decide what I can and can't do in my home and they also decide every other thing pretty much in my life. I guess Canada isn't a free country after all. Not sure where you are located, but your country might not be either. I am just sick of it. But thanks again Barb for your input.



Hi bigdaddy,

Thank you for your input.

I have contacted my local news station, to see if they can help me.

Go to your local news website and look for a link action news, follow direction, maybe they can find a answer for you.



Hi xander105, I would call legal aid or lawyer referral or depending on where you live your local university's law program. I asked my question and no one has responded.

I think it would come under grandfather law but I was told by a lawyer that only the Pets and Age have been proven in court so I could take it to court and argue it there but that costs more money too that I can't afford. I think they use the smoking thing as a oh you are harming other peoples health so they get away with it somehow. But contact a lawyer referral service or your local university. That's all I can suggest.


I have lived in this senior apartments for going on 9 years. When I moved in smoking was allowed.

Now they are saying that unless I agree not to smoke in my apartment I have to move. Having to move will cause me a great hardship, I cannot afford to move.

Management tells me I have no choice in this issue.

Doesn't the grandfather law come in here?


How long does the grandfather clause last? Does it pass on with a change of owner? I sure would like to know the answer to this question.


I manage a Mobile Home and RV park in California. We have some new owners and they are making lots of changes. There are several people who have lived in the Rv spaces for more than 10 years and their sites are a mess. The owners want to have the residents clean up their sites and follow the rules and regulations to help the park. One gentlemen thinks he's grandfathered in and doesn't have to follow the rules and reg. Is this true?

Also, the new owners want to change a policy that the Rv sites can only be occupied for 6 months. This way there is no homesteading. Can they do this or is park grandfathered in with the old rules?


Well I live in Canada and I know Grandfathering does exist here.

My question is for the past 10 years they have been charging me the same rate for the 4 parking stalls that I rent from the Strata Corporation and as of February 25th, 2009 they voted to raise the rates to 30.00 per stall which I agreed with, however with that Rule they have put a premium in for extra stalls. Eg: I rent 4 parking stalls so the first one will cost me 30,00 the second one will cost me 45.00 the third one will cost me 60.00 and the forth parking stall is now going to cost me 75.00 so from paying for the past 10 years for those 4 stalls is has been 100.00 per month. With the new Rule it will cost me 210.00 per month. So I was wondering if I would be able to go under a Grandfather Clause for those 4 stalls?

And if I can how do I go about requesting that from the Property Management Company?

Hope to hear back from someone as soon as possible.


Kerry Grant


Hello I live in california bought a home in 1976, but was built in 1946. The home has a back house unit that I believe used to be a garage and was altered before purchasing the house (with no permits). My question is.... would the city ask to tear it down if it was built with out a permit? or would it fall under this grandfather clause?


My daughter and husband rented a house in Va, they have found out that the house has many problems, how could they find out if the this house is covered under the grandfather clause, as far as repairs, The house was a single wide trailer which has additions added on, there is no insulation or even a structured wall that in in between the addition or the trailer, there is only paneling, also, the ceiling in the kitchen has what looks like wet, subflooring. Is all this legal. They do not want to cause a big seen they do however what to know their rights by law. Any one know?


I have a question. My mother purchased her house in 1973 with an enclosed patio. The house is now paid off and the city is now asking her to take it down. They say it was never permitted. Can this situation fall under Grandfather?


If you were grandfathered in at a management pay percentage and you step out of management, are they to drop your pay lower then the pay percentage that the previous stylist that were grandfathered in?


does the "Grandfather clause" apply to my situation? Are there any "Hardship" clauses that may apply? I live in Kenosha WI. Approximately 30 years ago, my mother remodeled her kitchen, removing a window & boarding it up. The siding used to cover the now windowless opening is of the same type of material but plain brown as opposed to the "fake brick" pattern of the rest of the house.

I took ownership in 2006 when my mother passed away but not without having to remortgage the home. In 2007 the City did neighborhood inspections & gave me various citations. One of which was/is for this window area of siding, stating it is a new city code enacted a couple years prior to the issuance of the citation.

They (the city) wanted me to recover the window area to match the rest of the house. I am hard pressed to find the "fake brick" style of siding, leaving no other option but to re-side the home. I do not reside in the home, it is a rental property, so therefore no grants or funding are available to me. In addition to this, one of the units was vacant for 6 months (no income), and I had to remodel (monies I possibly could have spent on siding) before I could re-rent it. It's not that I don't want to make improvements to the property, I simply don't have the funds. I will not take out another loan (I already carry 2 mortgages) as suggested by the property inspector. I am wondering if I can fight this citation via "The grandfather clause". Do I have a "Hardship" option? Orchid


My dad has had a home business for more than five years, and has been paying business taxes to the city. Now the city told him he might not be registered as a business because he did not fill out a form he didn't know about. The city might try to close him down for new ordinances that he won't be exempt from under the grandfather clause. If he has been paying taxes as a business shouldn't he be classified as such?


How does the grandfather clause work with septic systems that has been put in almost 47 years ago? And now the tech is wanting to make me put in a sprinkler aerobic system. Can you explain how this all works? No one can seem to help me.


Just so everyone knows, once a property is sold, the grandfather clause as far as bylaws in cities, counties, etc. are not grandfathered in to the new owners.


We have a resident of our community that has not kept his house up to the standards of the bylaws that are in place for the community. The house was grandfathered in so they do not have to meet the bylaws. This was the original land developer for the community's home. The house has since been sold and the new owner has not done any repairs to the house. can the community enforce the bylaws and have the new home owner follow the bylaws for the community?

How long does the grandfather clause last? does it pass on with a change of owner?


I was promoted to Assistant manager about 6 months ago, and have since then been demoted. My question is, can my employer take away my raise that was obtained during the promotion? I was told that after 90 days of working a position and getting a raise, that if they were to demote me that they can't take my pay, under the Grandfather Clause. Is there such a law and what is it called?


If government authorities pass an ordinance is a grandfather clause able to be exempt?

Example: If junk cars or trailers are banned by county ordinance, can this 'ban' still be implemented to the land owner later on, or can the government issue a 'time frame' on the exemption rule of being grandfathered in?


I would like to know the answer to the Horse question because I live in Southern Nevada and have the same problem with the number of horses owned and placed in a barn which was built 40 years ago. The zoning regs on the the number of horses is less than 30 years old and the house was built on the subdivided lot 22 years ago. Would the barn which is designed to house 7 horses be grandfathered to continue housing 7 horses?


land bought 10 years ago. My lot goes to within 30 feet of water. After 10 years, would GF clause suffice to own land?


i have owned my property since 1991. it is zoned for horses. my neighbor is threatening me with a lawsuit because of the dust that is created from riding. the laws that were in place in 1991 should cover me. there is also a strict anti-dust policy in place in southern nevada, as well as strict restrictions on when and how much watering i can do. the mayor of las vegas is allowed to water as much as he wants, and uses the grandfather clause as his blanket to get away with it. how does the grandfather clause effect or protect me if a law suit should come up?

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • The concept of the grandfather clause arose during the segregationist Jim Crow period that followed the U.S. Civil War.
      By: macropixel
      The concept of the grandfather clause arose during the segregationist Jim Crow period that followed the U.S. Civil War.