Fences are practically a necessary part of owning a house, especially in denser metro areas where privacy is limited. Before building your fence, you'll need to know if you need a building permit, as well as details about codes and zoning that govern fences in your area.
Unlike some home projects that universally require permits—such as electrical, plumbing, and structural—permitting for fence construction is rarely the same everywhere. In some places, no permit or notification is needed. Or if permitting is required, the permit might be as simple as a one-page application or online notice. In other places, you might need to supply sketches, plans, photographs, and fees along with the permit application.
Some Factors That May Trigger Permitting
- Height: When the fence is 8 feet high or higher with height supplements, a permit is usually required. In some areas, the height requirement is lower: 6 feet or 6 1/2 feet high only, with no supplements allowed.
- Materials: Building the fence from masonry or concrete might require that the fence be permitted, as opposed to a wood or PVC fence.
- Protected Zones: When you want to build the fence near a greenbelt, wetland, steep slope, or any type of environmentally critical area, you typically need a permit. In some cases, you may not be allowed to build the fence.
- Setbacks: Building the fence within a certain distance from a street might be a permitted activity or might not even be allowed.
Fence Permit Requirements Are Local
Fence permitting requirements are not universal. Some municipalities require it, others do not. The more urban and dense your city, the greater the likelihood that you will be required to apply for a permit your fence.
Fence permits may be issued either on the city or county level. If you want to construct a fence in an unincorporated area, you may need to contact the county. If you want to construct a fence in a city (that is, incorporated), you might need to apply at the city level.
When contracting with a fence company to build your fence, the company may obtain the permit for you. You still must pay the fee and the permit is in your name. Not all fence companies do this, so ask when getting your estimate.
Height Often Triggers Permit Requirements
Height requirements vary. Typically, though, fences under 6 feet tall don't require a permit.
Setbacks may trigger the need for a fence permit. In some areas, fences in the front or back of a property are sometimes viewed differently. For traffic safety and to prevent communities from becoming walled fortresses, the city planners may require setback boundaries. For example, you might not be allowed to build a fence 6 feet tall that is 15 feet or closer to the street curb.
Fence materials can make or break a permit. In cities, it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain permits in residential areas for barbed wire or electric fences—no matter the height. Yet in the same city, barbed wire or electric fences may be allowed in certain industrial zones.
Outside of cities, fences that are less than 6 feet tall sometimes do not require permits. Rural, unincorporated areas also give more leeway as to the type of fence materials, since industry or farming tend to have special needs for barbed wire, chainlink, or electric fences.
Fence Permission From Neighbors
Most areas do not require written consent, but some do. One such state, California, has the Good Neighbor Fence Law which aims to remove the element of surprise and smooth out differences between neighbors. This law requires 30 days' written notice, along with details about the proposed building and maintenance cost, timeline, and design.
Even though fence regulation is a burden on city governments, it eases the burden on the municipal court system.
Whether or not you share the cost of the fence with the neighbor is a different matter. Bringing up the topic of fences with a neighbor can be contentious and potentially divisive.