Fence Restrictions Q&A

QUESTION:

“We just bought a house last year and the fence at the rear and sides of the property need to be replaced. The side fence is a common fence shared with our neighbor and the rear fence is next to a park. My neighbor wants to build an eight feet tall fence but I am concerned that this may be a problem if I continue it across the rear yard since all of the other fences that face the park are only six feet tall. Are there any code requirements for fencing? Also, I want to build a privacy fence in my front yard, is there a height limitation?” – M.C., Fremont

ANSWER:

There are several restrictions and requirements for fencing that deal with not only the height of the fence, but also where it is located on the property. The three governing factors for fencing are the Uniform Building Code, local municipal ordinances and neighborhood conditions, covenants and restrictions (CCR’s).

As far as the Uniform Building Code is concerned, The maximum height that you can build a fence without a permit is six feet. Any fence more than six feet in height, measured from the ground up, would require a permit.

The reason for this is that a fence is basically a “wall” with minimal supports, which can be subject to wind loads and soil stability. Most people do not realize the force that wind can have on a fence, particularly if it is more than six feet tall. It is common for wind to blow down fences during severe storms.

Fences that are not properly supported also can fall or fail when the soil is saturated with water, such as during periods of heavy rain. Therefore it is important that fences are properly constructed to withstand these external forces.

Local ordinances and neighborhood CCR’s, however, are more restrictive and more specific. In addition to the maximum eight-foot limitation, there is also a four foot and 30-inch limitation on fences, depending upon where the fence is located on the property. Usually rear and side yard fences can be built up to the six or eight-foot height unless there are more specific neighborhood restrictions. It is when the fence projects beyond the front of the house and into the front yard of the property that the lower height restrictions kick in.

All homes have a front yard. The property line setback is typically measured from six inches back from the sidewalk to the front of the house or garage (whichever is closer to the sidewalk). Any fencing in this area is usually limited to a maximum height of four feet. If the house is located on a corner, there is a further restriction on sections of the fencing paralleling the corner that can be no higher than 30 inches.

The reason for this is pedestrian and vehicular safety. Building six or eight foot fences right up to the sidewalk would prevent one from seeing cars backing out of driveways, or children riding on bicycles or playing in a way that might affect cars on the street.

The proper way to construct a fence is to determine the size of the posts necessary. A six-foot fence normally requires 4X4 posts, and an eight foot tall fence normally requires 6X6 posts. I should point out that fences more than six feet in height may require some basic engineering since the building code is silent on their construction. Therefore before any construction is started, it is important that you consult with your local building department.

First, use a string line to lay out the posts, and dig the holes approximately eight feet apart. Most municipalities require that the posts be pressure treated wood. The diameter of the post hole should be twice the diameter of the post and at least 24 to 30 inches deep. Before the post is set, four to six inches of gravel should be placed at the bottom of each hole to allow for drainage underneath the post.

Once the post is set and checked for plumb in both directions, the hole is ready for concrete. The hole should be filled so that the concrete extends one inch above the soil. When pouring the concrete, it should be tamped or vibrated around the post to ensure a strong mixture. The concrete should then be sloped or tapered off away from the post to allow water to drain away. This is necessary if you do not want the base of the posts to rot away. When the concrete is poured below the top of the soil, water usually sits and pools at the base of the posts causing them to rot.

The next step is to install the kicker board between the posts and set the bottom and top rails before nailing up the fence boards. Remember to use galvanized nails as they are able to resist rusting.

If you have any questions or concerns about the height limitations for the fencing around your property, or the actual placement of the fencing in relationship the house or property line setbacks, you can call the City of Fremont’s Planning Division at 510-494-4455.

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