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If you want to build a fence, you’ll have plenty to consider—the height, the materials, the design, and where to put it. But depending on where you live, there may be more driving those decisions than just your preferences. Read on to learn more about regulations from your local authorities that you’ll want to comply with before putting up your fence.
David Reischer, Esq

David Reischer, Esq

David Reischer, Esq., Real Estate Attorney at LegalAdvice.com

Legal boundary

A homeowner cannot build a fence anywhere they want. It is not uncommon to have a boundary line dispute, and a fence that needs to be taken down after costly construction to erect.

Instead, a homeowner should hire a licensed surveyor to ascertain where the true boundary line resides. A ‘stakeout survey’ will mark the ground where the legal boundary line exists. A licensed surveyor will read the deed and upon the reading of the deed with precise measurements, then mark the ground where the actual boundary line resides.

Only after a licensed surveyor has conducted a survey should a fence be erected between two adjacent parcels.

Check restrictions or requirements

Homeowners cannot build their fence anyway they want for the following reasons:

  • Cities usually have a maximum height that a fence can be
  • Some types of fences, chain link or recycled material, may not be allowed in some cities
  • Homeowners need to make sure that they are building a structurally sound fence that won’t fall over so posts need to be no more than 8 feet apart
  • Setting the posts is the most important part of building a good fence
  • Always check with the HOA to see if there are any fence restrictions or requirements
  • You should make sure to buy rot-resistant materials to build your fence
Sydney Brisco

Sydney Brisco

Sydney Brisco writes for the website Just A Homeowner, a website designed to teach new homeowners how to maintain, design, and finance their homes.
Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel is a full-time residential real estate investor who specializes in purchasing properties, rehabbing them and renting/selling them in the Chicago area. Web: blueladderdevelopment.com

Verify boundary fences

A homeowner must pull a permit before installing a fence and must follow any guidelines/restrictions set in place by their local building department.

Of course, these guidelines/restrictions vary considerably by location, but universally you should expect to submit a survey with your fencing permit application so the local building department can verify the structure you are building is on your property and not an encroachment on a neighboring property.

You should also consider that even if you intend to install a fence on your property, the local building department may restrict you from installing the fence in specific locations on your property.

Check your local fencing regulations

As a home inspector, I have inspected hundreds of residential fences, and my clients frequently ask me about fencing. To start, it’s a good idea to get a house survey if you aren’t sure exactly where the property line falls. If a homeowner builds a fence in a neighbor’s yard, they may be forced to pull up the fence and reinstall it — a costly mistake. In addition, if there is a neighborhood HOA, then all bets are off. The HOA may specify whether fences are even allowed — as well as the type of fencing and other cosmetic restrictions.

The first municipality I would review on fencing regulations is your local county or city website for fencing code. There will absolutely be a fencing height limit, and you may even need to get a permit depending on the type of fence installed. Some municipalities also require notifying your neighbors that you will be building a fence, and you may be required to give details on fence type, length, height, and other details.

The allowed height of your fence can also depend on if it is in the front yard, back yard, sides, or if it is a barrier to a swimming pool.

Arie Van Tuijl

Arie Van Tuijl

Arie Van Tuijl, Founder of Home Inspector Secrets.
Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson is a home insurance expert with USInsuranceAgents.com.

Permit to start construction

The city that you live in will almost certainly have zoning laws for fences. In many major cities, the rules are pretty loose. There will probably be a height restriction and an easement rule, but you’ll still have a lot of leeway regarding the material you use and where you construct the fence.

Subdivisions are another story. Usually, subdivisions, especially newer ones, are very specific with their fencing bylaws. And newer subdivisions also usually have someone hired to look for code violations, so you can’t get away with anything. You will probably need to have your plan approved even if everything is in line with the code.

Before you get your heart set on a particular fence, no matter where you live, read up on the requirements for fences. Pick your fence style after you know what’s allowed so you are not heartbroken that you’re not allowed to have the one you wanted.

You may need a permit to start construction, so look into that before you get started so you don’t get into trouble.

Sometimes you’ll be required to have a fence. For example, if you have a pool, you must have a fence, in most places. If your city or county doesn’t require a fence around a pool, your homeowner’s insurance company probably will.

County codes are typically less stringent than city codes, so if you live outside of city limits you’ll be less likely to need a permit and more likely to have fewer restrictions.

Depend on your local building codes

The limits of a fence depend on your local building codes and any additional codes or guidelines imposed by your HOA if you have one. Many building codes restrict residential fences to a height of 6 feet. You usually have to get a permit to build any higher than that.

You must build your fence within your property line. Building it over the line could see you charged with a fine if your neighbor is aware that it’s over the line. It’s also pretty rude. You may see local restrictions on building fences too close to public access roads, sidewalks, areas that can flood, etc.

One interesting thing many people don’t know about is the fact that homeowners on corner lots tend to be subject to harsher laws on the height and visibility of the fence. Drivers need to be able to see around it, so you may be restricted to a fence that’s just 3 feet high, depending on the distance to the road.

Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey, President, WikiLawn Lawn Care.

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