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Getting the Most out of a Public Records Request

A public records request is a necessary step in any real estate transaction. In addition to obtaining the basic zoning designation, there is much more to know about any given site. This is especially true for sites that are already developed with existing buildings and the associated infrastructure, as there could potentially be hidden rules, regulations, or conditions that apply to the site that cannot be gleaned from basic zoning regulations.

To discover all the necessary details about a property, ZRG works with our clients to submit and obtain an official records request. ZRG has extensive experience in this arena and is well-versed in public disclosure laws as well as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Hiring an expert like ZRG to assist with this project milestone is imperative because incorrect, non-specific, or misdirected requests will lead to incomplete information and lengthy delays. ZRG also works on behalf of clients if they are met with a denial by the jurisdiction, and has the resources, knowledge and skill to contest and overcome these challenges.

It is also important to note that public records requests are not confidential. However, when a third party completes and submits the request, anonymity is gained on behalf of the client.

Making Your Request – What Can You Ask For?

When making a public records request, the request needs to be as specific and detailed as possible. A request can be made for special approvals, variances, conditional use, Board of Adjusters conditions, director interpretations, neighborhood plans, subdivision laws, grand-fathering provisions, violation status, permit status, and more. These records live as official documents and are often archived by the agency within the jurisdiction rather than being readily available to the general public or the property owner.

ZRG’s Approach

It is critically important to know how to file a request with the jurisdiction, how broad or narrow the request should be, and how to describe the specific type of information you are looking for in order to ensure nothing is omitted.

Because procedures vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, ZRG leverages their vast experience working with municipalities across the nation to draft each request. A specific timeframe and scope is clearly stated, and the right individual or department is identified. Often, there is a Freedom Of Information Liaison or Clerk who becomes the primary point of contact. When communicating with staff, ZRG’s communication strategy is a delicate balance of courteous professionalism and being direct. Follow up is key to ensuring the request receives the attention is needs.

If time is not on your side, there are usually options to expedite the process; paying a fee, providing a pre-paid courier to deliver documents, or electing to receive the documents electronically.

What is most important is to get the request right the first time. This is no easy feat, which is exactly why you want ZRG on your team. ZRG knows the process, what to ask for, and how to decipher the information you receive. And if the information needed is not provided, ZRG can contest or restate the request; quickly revising and resubmitting the request to ensure you get the information you need.

Time Kills All Deals

This infamous phrase is commonplace in commercial real estate and construction; and as ominous as it sounds, it’s true. When working to obtain information via public records, it is imperative that you have an expert prepare and follow up on these requests. One missed form or overlooked detail can cause delays in the process.

Contact a ZRG team member today to get started.


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