What’s your first line of thought when building a fence? Some homeowners jump straight to thinking about the various material options and whether wood, vinyl, or aluminum will be the best choice. Other homeowners focus on their budget and what amount of fencing materials they will need to complete the project. Perhaps deciding the purpose of the fence and how it will look is the top priority.
While all these elements are crucial components to determine before beginning your fence construction, you must also remember to pick what height you want your fence. Heads up, though – What you want and what actually is allowed by your city or HOA might not align. All too often, homeowners want something that does not fall within city regulations or HOA requirements.
What should you do if that’s the case? How do you ensure you do not waste time, money, or energy on a fence that will not meet those standards? It is far better to know what you are up against before building your fence than correcting the matter after construction is complete.
Following HOA Regulations
Homeowners Associations enforce subdivision rules designed to protect residents and keep property values high. As a governing entity, every HOA will have some form of restrictive deeds and covenants (CCRs). Those CCRs often include restrictions pertaining to fence height.
An HOA can regulate fence height, material, location, type, color, and even construction standards. If you live within a community that has an HOA, it would be wise to check the HOA rules before you purchase any fence panels or posts, and most certainly, before you begin any construction. Many HOAs have an architectural review committee or HOA board that reviews proposals to ensure they meet their rules.
Checking City Requirements
HOA standards and city standards are two different sets of requirements. Just because you confirmed the HOA regulations, that does not mean you should forgo learning the requirements of your specific city, and more specifically, your exact address. Cities can enforce different sets of standards within the same city based upon area.
When inquiring whether your desired fence height will be acceptable, city officials need to know very particular information, such as:
- Is your property a corner lot or interior lot?
- Where will the fence be located on your property? Front, rear, or side?
- Does your property (and the potential fence) abut an open space, residential property, commercial property, or public right-of-way like a street?
- Will the fence be a privacy fence, security fence, decorative privacy fence, agricultural fence, or screening wall?
- Do you plan to include any fence caps, columns, or decorative features on top?
- Is your property located in a flood plain? Does it have a diverse topography?
Asking Additional Questions
Since no two cities operate the same, it is imperative you research the city requirements for your exact location. Asking questions is an excellent way to gather information. The answers can help you learn and understand how to successfully complete your fencing project without incurring problems. Problems tend to lead to expensive fixes and prolonged completion dates.
Consider asking city officials the following questions:
- What is the maximum (or minimum) fence height allowed for my property?
- In order to go above the maximum height restriction, will I need to produce a letter or engineer-stamped plan to prove my fence will be structurally sound at that height?
- Are measurements calculated from the ground up or adjacent grade?
- What elements add to the overall height of a fence? Is a decorative rail or fence cap across the top included or not included in the calculations? What about fence toppers like decorative panels or fencing lattice?
- Do I need to pull a building permit, fence permit, and/or zoning permit?
- Are there height restrictions for my specific property due to visibility issues? City officials put visibility requirements in place to ensure a tall fence cannot impede traffic or block the vision of drivers operating a vehicle. It also protects pedestrians and neighboring properties from potential harm.
- If a permit is needed, who is allowed to submit the plans? A homeowner? Or must it be a licensed contractor?
- Do I need to submit civil engineering plans that show the drainage patterns of my property?
- Is a land survey required? A land survey shows the layout of your property. It lists accessory structures such as a shed, detached garage, cabana, gazebo, or pergola. It identifies impervious cover, which is anything that is not natural ground like a sidewalk, basketball court, driveway, or even the foundation. Last but not least, a land survey shows the location of easements, sidewalks, water lines, sewer lines/septic systems, and property lines.
- Is my home located in a historic district that automatically puts a limit on fence heights?
- If you know you want a taller fence than is permitted by city regulations, can I apply for a variance? Many cities have a variance process that allows an individual to seek an exception to the development standards. To obtain a variance, you will most likely need to supply additional information about your property and outline specific reasons for your request. At times, your application may need to go before a committee that approves or denies your request during a public meeting. Beware, the variance process typically equates to extra time and money with more fees to pay and an extended construction completion date.
Deciding the Right Height for Your Fence
Overall, it is well worth the effort to discover what fence height is allowed for your property. Yes, it might feel like a massive undertaking, but so is building a fence. Don’t be discouraged. A fence is an investment, and you want to do the job right the first time. Follow the necessary steps to stay in accordance with your HOA rules and city requirements, and the final results will be nothing short of spectacular.