Property: Zoning Reminders for Fencing and Outbuildings

by Vince & Stacy 09/13/2021

Property owners typically think of zoning regulations concerning building placement as a form of land use. In some ways, the idea of gaining permission to place or erect a structure limits how a property owner can use the parcel. But regulations concerning specific measurements between other elements take this notion a step further. Even when a type of structure is allowable under local zoning guidelines, it still must conform to placement guidelines. The following examples highlight how zoning affects building placement and construction.

Where Should You Place An Outbuilding?

Consider the hypothetical situation in which a homeowner purchases or builds an outbuilding that conforms to zoning regulations. At some stage of the process, the contractor or property owner will secure a permit. The application will probably show precisely where the structure will live. Most times, local guidelines allow outbuildings to sit relatively close to property lines. It’s not unusual for the distance to be as close as 5-15 feet to the abutter’s lot.

Now consider the property owner’s desire to upgrade that same code-conforming structure to an in-law apartment or tiny house for a family member. It’s entirely possible the outbuilding cannot be upgraded and gain an occupancy permit because it rests too close to a property line or street. Formal living spaces may require setbacks of upwards of 25 feet or more from boundary lines in some areas.

When Is A Fence Too Close To A Property Line?

It’s essential for homeowners to get fact-based information regarding fences and walls from local building officials. Going online and running a search can lead to distances that may not apply in your area.

It’s widely agreed upon that any fence must be erected on the property owner’s land. But the fencing may need to be set back far enough for a homeowner to make reasonable repairs without standing on a neighbor’s land. The conventional wisdom behind this stems from not limiting another person’s use. By that same token, some municipalities include codes that expressly give fence owners the right to walk on the abutter’s property to maintain and repair a fence.

In some states, a stone wall represents a permanent boundary regardless of what the land survey shows. The essential point is to never build a fence without knowing the correct distance in your community.

Like outbuildings and fences, items such as private wells and septic systems also come with minimum distance regulations. These examples highlight the fact that positioning buildings and structures on a property requires thoughtful consideration and planning.