Frequently Asked Questions about Fence Installation in the Houston Area
Our easy-to-follow guide to codes and regulations about fences in Houston and its suburban communities is designed to help you understand those ordinances and rules. We’ve presented hard to find information in a simple format. However, you may still have some questions about terminology and other factors that might affect your plans. For some of the most commonly-asked questions, you’ll find answers in plain language on this page. If you have other questions, your best resource is the building, planning or community development department in your city. You can find contact information on each of our city pages. The officials there will be happy to answer your questions and help you follow best practices. When you consult with a Houston fence company, you’ll be able to get answers then, as well.
What is a “plat of survey?” How can I get one for my property?
It is a diagram, drawn to scale by a surveyor that shows the dimensions and layout of your property. It also shows the existing structures already built there. These “plats of survey” are often required before a building permit, if required, can be issued. The locations of your planned fence should be drawn on a copy of that document. You can usually find yours among your mortgage documents, or from your mortgage lender. In other cases, it may be on file with your county clerk or assessor’s office. If it does not exist, you may have to have a survey done at your expense. Survey costs vary.
How do I find out where my property lines are?
That can be tricky. Often, property lines are not where owners think they are. Sometimes fences and other structures are built in the wrong locations. If your home is in a recent development, you should be able to work from your plat of survey and measure carefully to find them. If you can find the official survey monuments that mark the corners of your property, you can use those to stake out and mark your property lines. If those techniques don’t work, you may have to hire a surveyor to locate and mark your property lines. For all fence installations, it’s crucial to locate property lines accurately.
Is the sidewalk near my home on my property?
Probably not. In most cities, sidewalks are in the public right of way. Actual lot lines are usually some distance behind the sidewalk, but that distance varies. In any case, most front yard fences are also required to be set back even farther on the property. Your city’s rules will determine if and where you can locate a fence in your front yard.
Why are there fence setbacks for residential properties?
In many cities, fences are required to be positioned a certain distance inside of property lines. This setback distance may vary, depending on what part of the lot will hold the fence. For example, setbacks are often required adjacent to roadways, and may be different at intersections. In addition, height limits may vary depending on how far the fence is from the property line. If you have any questions, contact your local building department for specific information that may affect you.
I want to build a fence that is higher than the maximum allowed. Can I?
Possibly. In some cities, fences can be higher than normal in certain situations. For example, where a residential property is adjacent to a commercial property, higher fences may be allowed. In other situations, you might be able to get a variance from your planning department or HOA if you can show the need for that higher fence. However, variances take time to obtain and may require hearings or other actions. Check with your local building authority for more information.
What is an “open fence?”
Typically, an “open fence” is defined as a fence where at least 50% of the fence’s area can be seen through. Picket fences, chain link fences, ornamental metal and some lattice fences are classed as open fences. They are often required in front yards and side yards, and where traffic visibility must be maintained. Basically, if you can easily see through the fence, it is an “open fence,” although specific specifications may be in place in your city.
What are “sight triangles,” and why are they required?
They are triangular-shaped areas where fences are not allowed or where they have height restrictions. Typically, these are required at traffic corners and near driveways and alleys to provide open sightlines that allow traffic and pedestrians to be seen easily. They are required for safety reasons that are obvious when you look at a typical lot.
Why are fences prohibited in front yards where I live?
In some cities and developments, front yard fences are not allowed. Those rules are based on community standards, for the most part. The idea is that open front yards encourage friendly interactions with neighbors and provide a uniform appearance for the neighborhood. In other communities, front yard fences may be allowed, but are limited in height and must be constructed of only certain materials. For example, chain link fences are often not allowed, while low picket fences are permitted. It’s a matter of style for each city or master-planned development.
Why do I have to have the “good side” of my fence facing the outside?
This is really a matter of appearance. Many people consider the “back side” of a fence, where structural posts and rails are visible, to be unsightly. So, in most cities and other jurisdictions, the “finished side” of the fence must face outward, away from the interior area that is fenced in. It’s much like “putting your best face forward.” Fortunately, many designs have the same appearance on both sides, so if you’d rather not look at posts and rails on your side, one of those designs should be chosen. Such rules developed because neighbors didn’t want to look at the “ugly side” of fences on their neighbors’ properties. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense.
Do fences around swimming pools have different rules?
They do. Even in cities with simple fence rules, pools are treated differently. Regulations vary from place to place, but a typical installation around a pool must be at least 4′ high, and build in a way that discourages climbing by children. Close-set pickets, finished tops and bottoms and self-closing and latching gates that cannot be opened by small children are usually required. The reasons for those strict rules are obvious, since swimming pools attract children, and you can’t always monitor your pool area. Before building a pool fence, you should contact your local building authority to learn what requirements are in place locally for such fences. Fence companies in the Houston area understand local requirements for these projects.
What if I just go ahead and build my fence the way I want it? Why should I get a permit?
That’s a good question, and it has an excellent answer. Think about it this way: What if your neighbor decided to erect a fence made of scrap wood, old signs and pallets, leaned up against some random posts? How about a barbed wire or electrified fence next to where your children play? Odds are that you’d object. So, cities, homeowners’ associations and other jurisdictions create common-sense rules about fences to make sure people don’t build ugly or dangerous structures that disturb other residents. While such regulations and codes restrict your freedom to some degree, they also ensure that standards are followed by everyone. If you or someone else installs a fence that doesn’t meet community standards without a permit, it’s very risky. The city or the association may require you to pay a fine, correct the installation, or even to tear your fence down. Such rules are designed to protect everyone’s rights.
Consult Your Local Building Department Any Time You Have Fence Questions
If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this website, accurate answers are always available at your city’s building department, your HOA office if you lived in a planned development, or from local fence contractors. You can find phone numbers and website addresses for building authorities on the page for each city on this website. The people who work there are always happy to answer questions from residents. That’s their job. They want you to have correct information so you can follow all applicable codes and regulations. Local fence installation companies, too, are familiar with the rules in your area, and will be glad to help you understand those building codes and ordinances. If you have questions about DIY construction and installation, this website is a great starting point.