Tools and Tips: Fence Building Rules and Ordinances

From on April 29, 2008 in Fencing

Fence buildingMany people, when planning to build a fence around the perimeter of their yard, don’t really take into account city or county codes or ordinances regarding fence building. And who’s to blame them? Fence building is a common do-it-yourself project and most people, especially those in urban or suburban areas, know fairly well where their property ends and begins. Yet there are some very important rules pertaining to fencing of which many homeowners are ignorant. And you will be required by law to alter or remove any fence if a building inspector deems it to be in violation of any or all of your city’s codes. Note: permits for fences are usually not necessary but you are required by law to allow an inspection should an inspector request one in writing.

Rules for fencing almost always deal with location and height. In many cities, quality and appearance of a fence is also held to a specific standard. Barbed or razor wire is almost never allowed in cities on residential lots.

Rules on height vary based on location. If the fence is in the front yard then the maximum height, on average, will be four feet above grade. Note that if you live on a corner lot than your max height will likely be reduced to three feet due to possible sight obstruction for motorists. In side and rear yards the bar is commonly set at six feet above grade. Again there are exceptions to the rule, usually determined by proximity to areas accessible by the public (alleys, bike paths, etc.)

There are also required setbacks for the location of your fence. Setbacks denote a minimum distance from public areas and property lines. The front yard is probably the most critical point. Predominantly, required distances are from curbs and sidewalks. Variably, the fence will need to be around 12 feet from the back of the curb. Adherence to this rule will most likely keep the fence in compliance with any sidewalk setbacks. Usually, if you keep your fence at least five feet away from public walkways, you will be safe. And you may be able to have low lying landscaping in this area. In side and rear yards, fences will often need to be 1-3 feet off of adjacent property lines.

Required setbacks may vary based on your style of fence. Distances may be shorter for chain link fences because they are often not listed as a sight obstruction. Also, county ordinances may vary significantly from those of a city because of drainage, turn-outs, etc.

Most codes and ordinances regarding fence building are fairly universal but remember that these are general guidelines and you should always research rules for your specific area before doing any building in or around your home. Nowadays you usually don’t even have to call, you can go to your city or county’s website and many codes are listed there (fencing is almost always there because it is such a frequent project). If you decide to have your fence built professionally, then your contractor should definitely be aware of any and all existing codes and ordinances.