Fence Codes, Ordinances and Regulations in Houston Suburban Cities
When homeowners begin to think about a fence installation for their properties, they’re usually concerned primarily with the appearance and function. Enclosing a property with a well-constructed fence adds value to the home, protects children and pets, and provides additional security and privacy. A sturdy, well-designed fence helps keep intruders and trespassers off, and provides a wind break which helps families enjoy outdoor living. For many property owners, learning that the city they live in has strict rules and codes about fence materials, heights and designs comes as a surprise. It can be difficult to understand why such a simple project should be complicated by permits, rules, and limitations. But, there are excellent reasons for those rules and, once they are understood, those ordinances make sense. They’re designed to protect you, ensure proper construction, and enhance your property and your enjoyment of it.
In your city, local ordinances may or may not require you to get a building permit. A city’s regulations may limit your choice of materials, restrict the height, and prohibit fences altogether on parts of your property. If you live in a development governed by a homeowners association, that association may have its own rules that further limit your options. Why do all those rules exist? Well, in part, they’re designed to prevent people from just installing the cheapest, lowest quality materials and using substandard installation. Such fences are not an asset to the community and may even be unsafe. In addition, appearance standards that reflect the architecture and look of a community may be in place to make sure every fence enhances property values and is in keeping with the esthetic appearance of a neighborhood. Codes and regulations are just common-sense requirements designed to protect homeowners and neighbors.
Fence Ordinances Can Affect All Parts of an Installation
Every city in the Houston metro area is unique. Each has its own culture, heritage and style. That’s why fence regulations exist. They are designed to help property owners create designs and projects that fit into the community and enhance the lifestyle of that individual city. Regulations vary widely, but generally affect the following factors:
Permits and Inspections Ensure Compliance with Building Codes
While not every city requires a building permit for all fence installations, many do. If your city requires such a permit, you’ll have to specify its exact location on your property, its materials, height and construction type when applying for the permit. That lets the city check your plans against current ordinances and regulations. If changes are needed, the building department will let you know. Once construction is completed, many cities also require an inspection to confirm that the project meets code standards.
Property Line Rules Prevent Encroaching on Neighboring Land
Most homeowners don’t know precisely where their property lines are located. Even an existing fence may not be properly located. In most jurisdictions, any fence you build must be entirely on your property, and may not encroach on your neighbors’ properties. It’s crucial to accurately locate property lines before construction. In some situations, your fence may need to be set back from property lines, and the finished side must face outward. These rules are designed to protect everyone’s property rights and to avoid disputes between neighbors.
Height Limits Protect Sight Lines
One of the most common limitations in residential fence codes have to do with the height. Typically, maximum heights are limited to 6′ or 8′ to prevent a fortress-like appearance in residential areas. Often, too, fences in front yards, if allowed, must be even lower, and fences at traffic intersections may be prohibited or regulated for safety reasons. These rules vary widely from city to city. You’ll find detailed information for your city on the pages on this website.
Materials May Be Limited for Appearance and Safety Reasons
In most cities and in almost all HOA-governed neighborhoods, limitations on the materials may be in place. In most areas, typical materials like wood, ornamental aluminum and steel, and PVC vinyl wood substitutes are allowed. In some communities, chain link fences are only allowed on certain portions of a property, or may be prohibited altogether. Scrap materials, flimsy fences and other unattractive materials are often prohibited in many cities. Dangerous fences made of barbed wire or those with sharp spikes or electrical charged wires are almost universally prohibited in residential areas. The reasons for these limitations are obvious, and are in place to protect property values and for safety reasons.
Designs May Also Have Controlling Regulations in Your City
Not every type of fence design is suitable for every situation. For example, solid privacy fences are usually allowed for side and rear yards, but not in front yards in most cities. Where front yard fences are allowed, they must usually be decorative, of open construction and low in height. Chain link fences, although very affordable, may not be allowed in some communities for appearance reasons. Again, community standards are generally designed to reflect the community and its neighborhoods.
Special Districts and Homeowners’ Associations Have Specific Rules
In Houston and surrounding suburban cities, historical districts often have unique architectural features. Often special rules apply in these districts, and any fence project may have to be approved by a board. If you live in a development that has a homeowners’ association, deed covenants and restrictions on fence designs can be found in your association’s governing documents. These restrictions may differ from the surrounding city’s rules, and must be followed by homeowners. Local contractors will be familiar with such restrictions and can help guide you during planning.
Corner Lots Often Have Unique Requirements
Where streets intersect, traffic conditions often demand special rules for fences that adjoin those streets. At corners, front yard fences may be prohibited or limited in height or design to ensure good visibility for vehicles. Often a triangular area must be either free of fences or if allowed, the height may be limited. Similar restrictions may be in place for alleys and pathways. These rules are designed strictly for safety reasons and should always be observed.
Restrictions May Apply in Specific Situations
Where utility poles, transformers and other equipment exists, access to that equipment may be needed, so restrictions help ensure fast access. Utility easements, flood control areas, and drainage swales may also require modifications to designs or may even prohibit fences. In some cities, specific wind load design requirements may also be in place. Your local building authority can assist you with information about any specialized rules that may apply to your property. It’s important to comply with these rules, since you may be liable for any costs if your fence blocks such an area.
Fence Codes and Regulations Protect Property Owners and the Public
It may seem, at first glance, that the complex rules and requirements for fence projects are unnecessary, but history has shown that such ordinances and rules are needed. Not every property owner cares about how their fence affects others. Some people simply lack consideration for their neighbors. Without well-established rules, they might erect an unsightly, dangerous or poorly constructed fence that is a blight on the neighborhood. In fact, such situations are why cities created these ordinances in the first place. Even though they may seem complex and potentially frustrating, the reality is that they are designed to protect everyone and ensure that every fence in the community is an asset, rather than a liability. Whether you build your own project or hire a professional installer, following those established standards means that your fence will enhance not only your own property, but be compatible with your community and neighborhood.