Pro Advice

Fencing and the law

Yes, it’s your property, but there is a surprisingly large number of outside parties that have a legal stake in how you design and build your fence. Think we’re exaggerating? Here are the obvious shareholders: utility companies, county or city building offices, homeowners’ associations (HOAs), neighbors. And depending on where you live, there may be more.

Homeowners must get approval from their county building office, their Underground Service Alert system, their HOA, and their neighbors before building a fence.

So, let’s get to it.

What does the law have to say about your fence?

Utility companies

With fence construction, there is digging. And with digging, there is the possibility of striking an underground utility line. Trust us, you don’t want to do that.

Anyone who erects a fence in California must submit an Underground Service Alert ticket in advance. Such a ticket prompts county workers to visit your property and inspect the proposed footprint of the fence to ensure that digging is safe.

If homeowners ignore this task and inadvertently strike a utility line during construction, they risk causing a neighborhood-wide power outage, flood, or fire. Or even worse, personal injury or death.

Remediation and/or medical costs would almost certainly run into the thousands of dollars. And that’s if there were no lawsuits filed.

The USA process is a simple step, but a critical one. At AMM Fencing, we handle this process for our clients.  

Cities and counties

Because your fence rests outside your home and is a permanent part of the community landscape, county/city building offices want to be involved. Each region has its own rules regarding fences that dictate everything from height to materials used to distance from the street.

For those of you who want to erect a fence that sidesteps locally established regulations—a taller fence or one created from a non-traditional material—you can apply for a variance. A variance, if granted, will give you permission to move forward with your plan.

City rules may dictate how tall a fence can be.

But be forewarned: some city rules are nearly impossible to breach. If you hope to build a taller-than-normal fence in your front corner yard, for instance, and the proposed fence will block the view of passing drivers, the variance committee will likely cite safety concerns and deny your request. A taller-than-normal backyard fence to block the sound of local traffic, however, may receive a more sympathetic response.

HOAs and neighbors

And then there is your local HOA, which has its own mandates. In addition to reviewing your fence application themselves, HOAs may require you to get the go-ahead of nearby neighbors.

Of course, that means approaching owners who share your property line. Sometimes, these neighbors are equally excited about the prospect of a fence and are even willing to split the shared border costs. If they do not share your enthusiasm, you may need to erect your fence a few feet inside your property line.

Either way, check in with your HOA and adjacent neighbors before moving forward with fence construction. Legal issues may await if you skip this crucial step.

Special considerations

Usually, AMM Fencing customers report getting approvals from these assorted outside parties without difficulty. Occasionally, we hear of a wrinkle so we’re including these here only as a heads up:

  • Boundary disputes: If you and your neighbor do not know or do not agree upon your property boundaries, you may need to review your deed, contact your county recorder, or hire a licensed land surveyor.
  • “Attractive nuisances:” Curious neighborhood children are often drawn to potentially dangerous property attractions, such as pools, trampolines, or construction sites. Pool owners are required to follow county rules regarding fences, but all homeowners should be aware of other tempting activities on their property that may cause injury. Be sure to check with your county/HOA guidelines if your plot of land contains such a structure.
  • Rural fences: Homeowners in rural parts of the country may not have local guidelines to consult when building a fence. If livestock are introduced to a community, are the animals free to roam or must they be contained? Is it the owner’s responsibility to contain such livestock or the neighbor’s responsibility to fence them out? Reviewing state regulations may be necessary in such rural communities.

Dot those I’s, cross those T’s

Be sure to consider all legal issues before moving forward with your new fence construction. With a little foresight, you can protect yourself from future legal disputes and ensure that the only questions that arise after construction involve who to invite over for your first barbecue.

Contact us at AMM Fencing to learn more.

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