How to Build a House Fence By The Book?

How to Build a House Fence By The Book?

Outdoor Additions
Fences
By Mateos Glen Hayes January 10, 2022

Fences have many good uses. They help outline your property, keep your furry friends from venturing into a dangerous situation, and add a touch of privacy to the backyard. Indeed, fences are almost mandatory in many neighborhoods due to increasing urban density and all the legal liabilities that come with owning property.

However, while there are plenty of good reasons to put up your very own fence line, there are also lots of laws that concern fence building. Unfortunately, in most parts of the country, it’s not possible to just build whatever fence you want at whatever height you prefer. Your locale most likely has some form of fence regulation in place to preserve the aesthetics of your neighborhood and to prevent any fence you build from bothering your neighbors.

Fence regulations can seem a bit bewildering at times but they are absolutely essential for ensuring that your neighborhood looks nice and that your neighbors stay nice. We’ve all got to get along in this big old world, and a house fence is certainly not something that any of us should have to spend time-fighting over.

Property Line Markers 

A Good Fence Draws the Borders Between Your Property and Someone Else’s

A Good Fence Draws the Borders Between Your Property and Someone Else’s

This is one prickly topic that’s easy to start squabbling over and for good reason. A modern fence is essentially the physical border between your property and someone else’s, and you both might have different ideas of where that border should go. Building a fence right on the property line can be a bit of a thorny issue, and whether you or your neighbor can do it will hinge on a bunch of different factors.

In most cases, however, it is possible to build a fence as a property line marker provided that you follow local laws and procedures. This means you may be required to notify your neighbor in advance of the project, although this isn’t true in every part of the country. It is possible to build a house fence on the inside of the property line instead but you should know that doing so may allow your neighbor to claim that inside strip of land as theirs should the fence fall into an extended period of disrepair.

Giving Timely Notification 

Let Your Neighbor Know Before Your Fence Goes Up

Let Your Neighbor Know Before Your Fence Goes Up

For the sake of engendering a friendly neighboring spirit, we encourage you to give your neighbor a heads-up before you start putting up a fence. It’s just a respectful thing to do as it sets a courteous tone and won’t catch your neighbors off guard. And while this is not legally mandated in some parts of the country, more and more states are adopting what is known as “good neighbor fence laws” which require you to notify your neighbor usually thirty days before construction begins.

Expenses 

You’ll Likely Have to Share the Cost of Fence Building and Upkeep

You’ll Likely Have to Share the Cost of Fence Building and Upkeep

In most cases, it is required by law that both neighbors shoulder half of the costs for putting up a house fence, since it is a boundary line that will benefit both homeowners. This means that if your neighbor puts up a fence you will be required to pay half the building costs as well as some of the maintenance and upkeep costs.

This is an old law that goes back to the large farming homesteads that once dotted much of America, where fences were essential for marking off claimed properties and keeping livestock from escaping.

Of course, if you choose to build a fence and want to pay for it all, there is no penalty for not seeking compensation from your neighbor. Footing the bill for your house fence line won’t give you any special privileges when it comes to choosing where it goes, but it might cut down on the paperwork.

How High is the Sky

Fence Regulations Are All About Minimum and Maximum Limits

Fence Regulations Are All About Minimum and Maximum Limits

That’s a tough question to answer, so let’s just focus on fence heights. In fact, how high your fence ends up being is probably one of the most important questions. Basically, every local government has fence regulations on how high or how low your fence can be.

Most house fences do not require permits, which cuts down on a lot of red tapes. However, you will have to consult your local ordinances to determine specific height restrictions. In general, six feet is usually the maximum height your fence can be. The limits are typically lower if the fence is going to be in the front yard or within 15 feet of a street curb. This is due to the possible visual obstruction it can cause for traffic.

Indeed, most building codes will have a minimum setback which limits how close you can build the fence to a street, usually 10 feet.

Extra Questions 

What If Your Neighbor Puts Up a Bad Fence? 

Can You Report a Neighbor for an Ugly Fence?

Can You Report a Neighbor for an Ugly Fence?

We already know what you’re gonna say; “what is a bad fence?” Well in this context we mean either a fence that is ugly or one that is not up to code. To report a house fence that is not up to code, you need to file a formal report to your local planning and permitting department.

If your fence is receiving a complaint, you will usually get a notice of non-conformance in the mail, and you will have a month or so to correct your fence so that it is up to code. As for ugly fences, this really depends on what we're talking about when we say “ugly”. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say, and in most cases, you can’t report your neighbor for building a concrete wall, or a gritty chain link fence. That is unless your neighborhood is run by a Homeowners Association (HOA). If that is the case your HOA will definitely have specific types of fence panels it wants all house fences to be made of, so you’ll have some recourse if your neighbor decides to build an eyesore. For example, your HOA may mandate that only redwood fence panels be allowed for the sake of aesthetic continuity.

In any case, you’ll be happy to know that you have options if a neighbor tries to build a fence with the purpose of harassing you since many municipalities have laws on the books against “spite fences”. Also, barbed wire or electric fences are almost always illegal, so that’s something you can report.

Should you Hire a Surveyor?

Do You Need a Surveyor to Plan Your Fence?

Do You Need a Surveyor to Plan Your Fence?

While it may seem like a nice idea to get a surveyor involved so that you can accurately delineate property lines, it usually is not necessary. Unless you live on a large estate, property line surveys are expensive luxuries you can do without. They are not required, and in fact, most properties already have corner markers per their site plans.

In most cases, you won’t need a permit to build a house fence, and even if you do you’ll only need to submit a basic plan of the site with property corner markers as far as the city is concerned.

What About Hedges?

Can You Grow Hedges Instead of Building a Fence?

Can You Grow Hedges Instead of Building a Fence?

You might think that growing some shrubs or a tall hedge line as a literal garden fence is a cool loophole for escaping all house fence regulations. However, your local government is almost certainly aware of this “hack” and they will still impose restrictions on a hedge fence. 


The good news is that your garden fence may be subject to more lenient fence requirements since keeping the growth of a shrub to a precise level is difficult and impractical. So if you choose to use a shrub fence you might win a few extra feet of maximum house fence line-height.

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes