Sean Bryant6-Minute Read
UPDATED: August 15, 2022
When you purchase a new home, you might have things you want to do to the outside. Maybe you want to add a privacy fence or build a shed to give you some extra storage. But before you can build on your property, it’s important to understand how close you can build to your property line.
Certain distance guidelines are established so that structures like houses, fences, sheds or pools don’t impede on the neighboring properties.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer to how close you can build to a property line. Each municipality establishes its own guidelines, so while one city might have one requirement, another could be completely different.
If you’re building a new home on a piece of property, many cities and towns will require a fixed amount of space between the side of a home and the property line. Depending on the age of the development it’s probably between 5 – 10 feet. However, many newer developments will use a percentage of the lot’s width but set a minimum number of feet.
The same goes for the front and rear yards, where they will set a percentage of the lots depth and this will be the required distance from each property line.
Before building, homeowners should check with their local zoning or building department. In some places, there must be 5 – 15 feet between a structure and the property line. In some cases, you must obtain a neighbor's permission to build.
Before you begin a project, there are some terms that you should familiarize yourself with.
Property lines are simply the legal boundary that separates your land from your neighbors. Property lines could have been determined in a few different ways depending on how your neighborhood was founded. If the area is newer, the developer most likely separated out each plot of land prior to building homes. In older areas, local and state governments likely determined the property lines.
Before you build anything on your land, it’s important to learn how to find property lines. This could help you avoid a difficult situation with one of your neighbors.
Setbacks refer to the minimum amount of distance required from a building and other areas on the property. The most common type of setback occurs with the property lines. As mentioned earlier, depending on where you live, there are requirements for how close to the four property lines you can build a structure. These requirements are set by the local or state governments. Setbacks can also be established for how close you can build from a river, sidewalk, highway and floodplain.
No-build zones are designated areas of land where no structures can be built. These zones are usually determined by the local government.
Easements give others the ability to use someone else’s property. These are frequently associated with utility companies, giving them the right to assess or bury cables within your property. Easements like these are frequently written into the deed for the land, but there can also be implied easements, which are not written down. Instead, if two neighbors have been using land in a certain way and a disagreement ever happens, they can use this history as a type of easement.
Right of way will allow someone else to travel through your property. This can happen if someone needs to use your land to access public land.
Before you begin building a structure on your property, it’s important to check with your local government to learn any rules you may need to know. Here are some of the more common structures and some basic guidelines you should follow.
Earlier we talked about setbacks that are required when building a home. The exact amount a building needs to be set back from the property line will vary from one location to another. However, the required setback on the side is typically between 5 – 10 feet, while the front and back require around 10 – 20 feet at a minimum.
Depending on where you live, you might be required to build your fence 2, 4, 6 or 8 inches away from your property line. However, in some areas, you’re allowed to build your fence up against the property line.
If you’re thinking about building a shed for tools or even a she-shed to escape the rest of the family, there are rules around these as well. Requirements in each city will be different but frequently, sheds can’t be built closer than 5 feet from the rear property line or 2 feet from the side property line. They also can’t be built in the front yard.
Detached garages have a lot of rules surrounding where they can be built depending on the planned location, so it’s best to check with your local building department. If your detached garage will face the front of the house, rules state it can be anywhere from 5 – 15 feet from the front property line and 5 feet from the side. If the garage is in the backyard, off an alley, there should be approximately 5 feet on each side.
Once you decide you want to build on your property, you might have a lot of excitement. However, there are a few things that need to be done before you go ahead and put up the first fence post or start staking out for your new garage. Here are some things you must take care of first.
Before any work begins, it’s extremely important that you mark out your property line. The last thing you want is to have issues after work has begun. To do this, you can contact your local building department and request to have a property survey completed. This will mark out your land so you know exactly where you can build.
Most of the time, building projects are going to need a building permit. You can find out by calling your building department or a quick search online. If a permit is required, you will need to submit building plans and pay a fee.
Neighborhood disputes are never fun. To help avoid any unwanted conversations, talk to your neighbors about your upcoming projects. If they have any concerns, make sure they’re taken care of before you start construction.
If you find out that you’re required to pull a permit before work can begin, you’ll most likely learn about the different laws you need to follow. This includes things like the required setback your project needs.
Now that you’ve found out exactly how much of a setback you need, you can start measuring everything out. If you’re building a fence, start at the property line and measure in, marking the minimum distance all the way around. If you’re building a house, shed, garage or another structure, measure the minimum distance from the property line on all sides of the building.
Understanding exactly where your property line is, can help reduce issues that might come up if you choose to build on your land. Below are a few things that can happen when property lines are unknown and building happens anyway.
If you violate setback laws, whether it’s when building a fence or adding a garage, there can be consequences with the city. If there is a complaint from a neighbor or a city inspector notices the violation, you can be fined. There’s also a good chance you’ll be forced to remove the structure in violation.
The last thing anyone wants is to have a conflict with their neighbors. It can make living in the neighborhood a little less tolerable. However, if you build a fence on the wrong side of your property line or you put up a building too close to the neighbor’s yard, it can definitely lead to some tension. Avoiding these issues is another reason why it’s a good idea to find out your property lines before doing any construction.
If you’re planning to build on your property, it’s important to do the planning work ahead of time to avoid any issues later on. Contact the city and have them survey your land so you know where your property lines are. Also, make sure you understand the required setback and other building laws in your area. By doing this you will know how close to your property line you can build and won’t have any issues with your property title in the years to come.
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