Are you thinking about building a new fence in Seattle? Before you get started, it is important to learn about fence regulations. There are rules governing fence construction for the city and state, as well as possibly from your neighborhood or homeowners association. You may need a permit before you begin construction as well depending on the height and location of the fence. That is why it is necessary to familiarize yourself with these codes before you get too far in your planning.
Regulations cover fence heights and govern how high you can build your fences. In Washington there is a state law on fence height for your backyard, while front yard fence heights are covered by lower levels of government like county, city or neighborhood rules.
For a single family home in a residential neighborhood in Seattle, fence height cannot exceed six feet. However, you can add things like trellises, arbors, and other architectural features that go an additional two feet taller than the fence itself. The only catch is that the space in those features must be mostly open so it doesn’t block the view entirely.
If you are thinking of building a fence above a retaining wall used to raise the grade of your property, the maximum height of the retaining wall plus your fence is limited to nine and a half feet. Another situation where parts of the fence can be taller than six feet is if your property is on a slope. In that case, the fence can go as high as eight feet, so long as the average height between posts is six feet.
In the front yard, state law does not specifically regulate front yard fence height. But in most areas of Washington cities restrict the height of your front yard fence to four feet. This ordinance on height limits is more likely to vary based on your specific neighborhood or town so make sure you contact your local officials or check out your local municipal code to find out.
In Seattle, as long as your fence does not exceed the height restrictions, it can be built anywhere on your property. There are no regulations about where it can or cannot be built.
If you build your fence on the property line, you may be able to ask your neighbor to pay up to half of the costs of construction. You have this right according to the Good Neighbor Fence Law in Washington state. The Good Neighbor Fence Law also requires you and your neighbor to split costs of maintaining and repairing the fence. This law exists because both property owners are seen to be equally benefiting from the new fence.
On the other hand, if you build your fence over the boundary line on your neighbor’s property, there is a law of adverse possession which may apply. If you take over some of your neighbor’s property with your fence placement and they do not discourage or fight it, after ten years the law makes that property your own. If you pay property taxes on said annexed land, you can legally take it over after seven years according to this occupancy code.
Also related to fence placement restrictions are the laws on spite fences. In Washington state, spite fences are prohibited by law. That means you are not allowed to build a fence for the sole purpose of harassing your neighbor. They are usually tall and unattractive. They can even be made up of trees. But if the only reason it is being built is to annoy a neighbor, a court can be called to issue an injunction to stop construction or have it removed.
In some cities, there are regulations about how much of your lot can have things built on it, which is called lot coverage. A few examples of this include your house, maybe a detached garage, or a shed. Some percentage of your lot is supposed to be free of any structures. However, in the city of Seattle, fences do not count in lot coverage. So you will not have to do any calculations to find out if a fence puts you over the lot coverage percentage allotted to you.
Whenever you are building something, it is a good idea to find out if you need to apply for a permit before beginning construction. Sometimes, fences require building permits. In Seattle, if you are building a fence that is less than eight feet high you do not need to apply for a permit.
If you do want to build a taller fence you will need to get a construction permit. Most of the time residential fences only require a construction subject-to-field-inspection permit. In this case, you have to submit an application and plans for the fence. The plans need to include scaled site plans and detailed drawings.
Even though the average-height fence will not require a permit in Seattle according to city codes, specific neighborhoods may have their own requirements. So make sure you find out from your homeowners association or other neighborhood association whether or not you need to get a permit first.
Beyond the basic regulations on fence height and fence placement, there can be special considerations that apply in specific areas. One example is homeowners association regulations. Before you start on your new fence, it is advisable to contact your local zoning department to make sure that even if there are no city regulations that apply to your project there are also no local or neighborhood requirements. If you live in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners association, contact them to see if there are any additional restrictions on building fences.
Another special consideration that is specific to the Seattle area are codes for to protect sensitive environmental areas and to protect you from unforeseen hazards like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
Seattle has a special code for Environmentally Critical Areas, or areas that provide critical environmental functions. One example is wetlands which protect water quality and provide habitat for fish and other wildlife. There are other municipal codes for development in areas that have geologic conditions like being prone to landslides, seismic hazards, flood prone areas, or volcanic hazards.
The goal of these codes is to protect the areas as well as public safety while allowing for reasonable development. The city of Seattle has an online mapping tool to see if your property has any mapped Environmentally Critical Areas.
If you are building a fence, before you start digging post holes you need to contact http://www.callbeforeyoudig.org/ or the call before you dig number (206-763-3433) to make sure you about any public utilities are in your area and exactly where they are located. If you have your fence professionally installed, many times they will take care of that step for you. But make sure you talk to them to find out for sure!
They will mark public utilities only though, so make sure you tell anyone working on the fence about private lines like sprinklers, gas service to your backyard grill, and other private lines you know about.
Before you get going on your new fence, make sure you read through your city and state laws about fence construction. Also find out if there are neighborhood rules that govern fence construction. Every HOA could have their own rules about fences. If you feel like you have a good grasp of Seattle regulations about fences, and you are ready for the next step, you are in the right place! You can get in touch with the experts at Ergeon to start making plans for your new fence installation!