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Avoid Legal Barriers When Building a New Fence

Homeowners who are looking to build a fence often assume that because the fence will be on their property, they can design it however they want. But that isn’t always the case.

Agood neighbor fence little research before putting up a new fence can prevent all kinds of headaches. The first thing you should do is make sure that there aren’t any local neighborhood regulations that could cause problems with your planned design.

Height Restrictions

While every neighborhood in the country has different regulations, there are several common guidelines to consider. Height restrictions are fairly universal, with six feet being the maximum height allowed for backyard fences and four feet the maximum for front fences. Depending on your city, trellises, lattice, or any other material placed on top of the fence may be considered as part of the fence when measuring the overall height.

Many factors are used to determine the maximum allowed dimensions for a fence, including the street your house is on, distances between houses on your block, and the amount of traffic your street sees. Your local law library is a good place to begin your research.

What’s Mine is Yours

Laws regarding fence ownership vary, as well. Keep in mind these issues when deciding where to put your fence:

  • Boundary line fences. A general guideline is that a fence installed directly on the property line equally belongs to the landowners on either side. That means each homeowner is responsible for maintaining his or her side of the fence. In some areas, it may be necessary to get written permission from your neighbors before installing a boundary line fence.
  • Non-boundary line fences. One way around the issue of ownership is to build the fence at least two feet within your side of the property line. This allows enough room to maintain your fence on both sides without trespassing on your neighbor’s property. Always check your city ordinances before building a fence to ensure you are placing it within your legal limits.

Front Yard Fences

It’s especially important to know where your property line is when installing a front yard fence. Things to consider include:

  • Public right-of-way. Many homeowners assume their property extends all the way to the curb or sidewalk, but this isn’t always the case. Make sure you aren’t installing a fence on public right-of-way by mistake.
  • Sight distance from the street. If you live on a corner, your city may have restrictions on fences that block drivers’ line of sight around the corner.
  • Backyard access. You may be required to install a gate if your front yard fence restricts access to the backyard.

Variances—When All Else Fails

If you’re looking to build a custom fence for a very specific purpose that’s outside the local zoning regulations, there’s still a way to move forward. You can apply for a one-time exception to local fence law called a variance, though the success of your attempt will depend on the neighborhood and the necessity of your requested fence design.

View an example of a typical city fence code.

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