A Guide to Fence Laws in Washington, DC

Learn the laws that govern the construction, maintenance and removal of fences in Washington, D.C.
Veda Yalamanchili
Veda Yalamanchili
Last Update:
January 11, 2023

Fences play an important role in defining property boundaries, starting a landscaping project, and ensuring privacy, but they can also be a source of conflict between neighbors. In Washington, D.C, there are laws in place to govern the construction, maintenance, and removal of front yard fences. These laws can be complex and vary depending on the type of fence, the location, zoning, and other factors. Whether you're a homeowner looking to install a new fence or a neighbor concerned about a fence on your property line, understanding the fence laws in Washington, DC is essential. In this guide, we'll explore the key points of fence laws in the District of Columbia and provide practical advice to help you navigate fence-related issues.

Fence Materials Regulations

The most common fence materials allowed in DC are wood, vinyl, aluminum, and wrought iron. Certain types of materials are restricted in Washington, D.C. For example, chain-link fences are generally not allowed in residential areas, as they are considered unattractive and can create safety hazards. The use of barbed wire, electric fences, or other hazardous materials is prohibited in public spaces.

If a property owner wishes to use a fence material that is not on the approved list, they must apply for a special permit from the D.C Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs(DCRA). To get a special permit for a barbed wire fence on private properties the fence should not be located on the lot line, be in a Residence District, and be along the zoning boundary lines of any Residence District. The minimum height of the lowest strand of this barbed wire should be 6 feet.

Wood is a popular choice for fences in D.C, but it must be pressure-treated to withstand the local climate and resist decay. Vinyl picket fences are also commonly used because they are durable and low-maintenance. Aluminum fences are lightweight and easy to install, while wrought iron fences offer an elegant, traditional look to patios.

Fence Height Regulations

The height of a fence is a critical consideration when it comes to regulatory compliance and neighborhood harmony. In most residential areas of Washington, D.C, fences cannot be taller than six feet. This maximum height limit is designed to preserve sightlines and prevent obstructions of public views. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, a fence can be taller if it serves as a retaining wall to support a slope or if it is situated near a busy street or highway.

For commercial properties, the fence height may be allowed to exceed six feet with a special permit from the D.C Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. This is typically granted for security or safety reasons, such as securing a construction site or protecting valuable equipment.

In general, fences bordering streets shall not exceed a height of 7ft in Residence and 10ft in commercial or mixed-use. And fences bordering alleys shall not exceed 7ft in residence and 10ft in commercial or mixed-use. The Code Official may approve greater height where the alley is 15ft wide or more. Fences that are located less than 10ft from a party line shall be a maximum of 7ft high unless there is written consent between the adjoining owners. Fences located in lot interior more than 10ft are not limited by height.

In some historic districts or conservation areas, there may be additional regulations around fence height and design. These fences would need an HPRB review. Property owners should consult with their local historic preservation office before beginning any fence installation project.

It is important to note that the fence height regulations apply to the height of the fence itself, not the height of any structures on top of the fence. For example, a fence may not exceed six feet in height, but a trellis or lattice structure on top of the fence may be allowed if it does not exceed a certain height and meets other guidelines.

Property Line Regulations

According to the D.C Zoning Regulations, fences must be installed within the property line and cannot encroach on public property or neighboring properties. This means that property owners must obtain a survey of the property from a licensed surveyor to ensure they are aware of the exact location of their property line.

Additionally, setbacks may be required by local zoning regulations, which dictate how far a fence must be set back from the property line or neighboring structures. In most cases, fences cannot exceed six feet in height, but this may vary depending on the zoning regulations for the specific area.

If a fence is installed outside of the property line or exceeds the allowable height, property owners can be subject to fines and may be required to remove the fence. It is therefore important to obtain the proper permits and approvals before beginning any fence installation project.

In some cases, neighboring property owners may agree to install a fence jointly along the property line. This can help to prevent disputes and ensure that the fence is installed in a manner that is beneficial to both parties.

Determine if a permit is required

Permits are sometimes required for fences, but not always. Property owners should check with the DCRA’s building codes and state laws to determine if a permit is required for their specific project.

Prepare permit application

The permit application can be completed online through the DCRA's permit portal. The application will require information about the property owner, fence location, materials, and dimensions. Some of the documents you might need to attach to your application include:

  1. Neighbor Notification letter
  2. A recent plat that is not older than 6 months
  3. A detail of the fence, indicating the height of the fence, the design and type of material, or a copy of the manufacturer specification if a prefabricated fence is to be used.
  4. An agreement between the owners if a party-line fence is proposed above 7ft

Submit application and fee

Once the permit application is completed, it can be submitted online along with the applicable fee. The fee for a fence permit varies depending on the size and type of fence being installed.

Wait for approval

The DCRA will review the permit application to ensure that the proposed fence meets all necessary regulations. This process can take up to 15 business days.

Fence Safety Regulations

Fence safety regulations in Washington, DC aim to prevent accidents and injuries related to fences. These regulations require fences to meet specific safety standards, such as fence height, spacing, and material strength. Fences that surround swimming pools must have a locking mechanism to prevent unauthorized access, while fences cannot obstruct the view of drivers or pedestrians. Property owners should maintain their fences in good condition, repair any damage, and remove any dangerous elements. Broken or deteriorating fences can cause injuries or collapse, while dangerous elements such as sharp edges or protruding nails can cause harm to children, pets, or wildlife.

Final Thoughts

Fence laws in Washington, D.C are in place to protect the safety and property rights of property owners and the public. It is important for property owners to familiarize themselves with these laws and regulations before installing or maintaining a fence. By following these guidelines, property owners can avoid legal issues, fines, or accidents related to their fences. It is recommended to consult with a professional fence contractor and local regulations before beginning any fence installation project. Overall, following fence laws in Washington, DC is crucial for creating a safe and secure environment for everyone.

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