RLUIPA Q&A | Dalton and Tomich


RLUIPA is an acronym for Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. It’s a federal law that went into effect on September 22, 2000. It was enacted in response to widespread evidence that religious groups were being discriminated against the context of zoning and land use regulations. RLUIPA helps protect houses of worship against discrimination by preventing local governments from using land use regulations to unjustly hinder religious uses. RLUIPA requires local governments to treat religious assemblies on equal terms with nonreligious assembly uses. It also prohibits local governments from totally excluding or unreasonably limiting religious use within their jurisdiction.

There are also a number of protections against zoning applications that burden or limit the exercise of religion.

If the religious liberty protection act known as RLUIPA doesn’t apply to your case there may be other laws that can support you. In a land use dispute, ministries and churches can support their case with the Free Speech or Assembly Clauses, the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause and the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause. There may also be federal and state statutes that can be used by your property rights attorney to build the case.

The options that are available depend on the facts of your case and the desired outcome. That’s why the team at Dalton & Tomich closely evaluates each case to create the most effective strategy using all of the laws that apply.

All religious groups have the same right to be treated fairly in terms of how zoning and land use is applied. When a local government discriminates against a church or other house of worship it’s usually in violation of RLUIPA as well as the U.S. Constitution. RLUIPA may even apply in a corporate law case.

The first step we suggest is to examine the local zoning code. There may be a way to appeal the decision internally without litigation. If there is no appeal avenue and you have the ability to challenge the decision, that is when you need to take the next step and file suit either in state or federal court. You can use RLUIPA as a cause of action for the suit, depending on the facts involved.

When a conditional use permit is required that means religious use in an area is a privilege, not a right. The religious entity must meet certain requirements set forth by the local governing body to get a conditional use permit.

Many cases take around 18 months from the filing date to the trial date. However, every case is unique, and the timeframe is dependent on a number of people.

One of the common sayings is that litigation is like riding a rollercoaster. There are going to be high points and low points, sometimes one right after the other. A lot is happening during the course of a lawsuit, and parts of it will be out of our control. Who is assigned to be the judge alone can dramatically influence the timeline.

We’ve discussed the stages of the litigation process for a religious land use case on our blog, and our video on the time and expenses for a typical religious land use case is another good resource for understanding how long a case could take.

It is extremely difficult to estimate the cost of litigation. Ideally, your case will be successful and the other party will be ordered to pay your legal fees, but that isn’t a guarantee. Some of the many variables that go into the cost of litigation include:

  • The complexity of the case
  • The need for expert witnesses
  • Your location
  • How the other party responds
  • What the judge determines

The fact every property rights attorney has their own fee system adds to the difficulty of calculating the end total. We can’t tell you exactly how much litigation will cost at the onset, but we can provide an estimate of the anticipated costs.

Attorneys specializing in property law should take the time to understand your needs before determining fees and the scope of services. Our top priority is always providing value for your money. To learn more about litigation expenses watch our video time and expenses for a typical religious land use case.