Good Fencing

Property owners who are subject to covenants may want to install a fence for several reasons, such as keeping children in the yard, keeping a dog, keeping deer out of the yard or for aesthetic value.  However, your first stop should be the bylaws of your community which commonly contain restrictions on fences, whether it prohibits fences altogether or the type or design.

When you live in a homeowner’s association, sharing a fence with a neighbor often is part of the experience.  Whether you’re updating or modifying an existing fence or constructing a new fence, there are several things you should be aware of prior to initiating the process.  Because backyards often represent the intended privacy of your home, sharing a fence with another homeowner or homeowners can be a touchy subject. Fencing can significantly impact the look of more than just your property.

Let’s look at what homeowners need to be aware of when it comes to making changes to fencing in your homeowner’s association:

Boundary Fences

When a backyard fence splits the property lines between neighbors, it is defined as a boundary fence. Every homeowner shares dual ownership of the allotted portion of a boundary fence existing on their respective property (meaning that your neighbors have the same rights to the shared fence as you do), so if you’re planning on repairing or replacing the fence, you need to be familiar with your property survey or plat. This way, you can be sure that you don’t infringe on your neighbor’s property line. Also, you should communicate with your neighbor about your plans well in advance to avoid any issues or confrontations that may occur over the boundary fence.

 Regulations and Guidelines 

 There are local, county, and state laws that specific limitations when it comes to backyard fences. Most often, fences are the subject of the homeowner’s association. Because most local fence laws tend to be loosely imposed, your homeowner’s association regulations must be strictly enforced.

 Common guidelines for fences:

  • Fences may be required to be positioned a certain amount off of property lines. This is referred to as a setback. Check your plat or property survey to assess where the fence can be constructed and practice proper fence etiquette by making sure the smooth side of the fence faces outward toward your neighbors or the street.
  • Fences must be of a certain height. For example, your homeowner’s association may mandate that fences are no less than six feet (6’) tall and individual slats no more than nine inches (9”) wide.

 Steps to Fence Modification

 When you live in a homeowner’s association, there are certain processes that must be followed in accordance with your governing documents. You also must be considerate of your neighbors. Once you’ve come to an agreement with your neighbor(s) about the fence, there are at least three steps you’ll need to take prior to making any changes to, or adding a boundary fence:

1.     Communicate with your neighbor(s) prior to making any changes to the boundary fence! If change is not wanted by anyone but yourself, then you may have a problem on your hands. The last thing you want to do is cause friction between your immediate neighbors and yourself. Make sure everyone is on board. This may mean that you agree to pay for the cost, compromise on stain colors, etc.

2.     Get the approval of your association’s architectural control committee (ARC) prior to starting any work. Many associations require a certain aesthetic for fences, so it’s important to check the associations bylaws for specific requirements. If you fail to receive prior approval from the ARC to complete your fencing project, you may find yourself dealing with violations, fines, and fees, or even a lawsuit!

3.     Obtain proper permits from the county in order to modify or construct your backyard fence. Your application must be approved before you can start the project.

4.     Hire a reliable local contractor who understands local zoning regulations. They can help you avoid any future potential problems by reviewing regulations and building a fence that is safe and acceptable.

Constructing Good Fencing

Once you have taken the appropriate steps and obtained the proper permits, it’s time to get to work on your new fence.  Because homeowner association can control, to some degree, the type of fence you construct and the material used, there are certain factors the association tends to look for:

Safety and Visibility

When it comes to fencing, safety is a top concern. Restrictions on fence height are often related to visibility issues. Associations must consider fences that do not obstruct a driver’s view at intersections and/or promote neighborhood safety.


Style and uniformity are often considered very important when it comes to Association fencing. Many associations require properties within the community to keep a certain appearance to remain looking uniform and pleasing. Whether it is modern or elegant, stucco or wood, the type and style of fence may have to fall in line with what other properties are using. It’s vital that you understand your guidelines so that you avoid any unpleasant situation or extra costs associated with having to replace your brand-new fence.

Protecting Nature

 Many cities have enacted ordinances pertaining to the preservation of lakes, trees, and other landscapes. In some areas, you might be required to build fencing around trees or plant bushes along the street-facing side of a fence when it backs up to a sidewalk or faces the main roadway.

Preserving Views

 It’s no secret that most associations invest in landscaping and certain aesthetic features, such as meticulous landscape or man-made pond. These environments lend to the overall appeal of the community. Many will be unhappy if a fence were to interfere with or obstruct this carefully constructed landscape.   For this reason, privacy-style fences may be prohibited in favor of shorter fences with narrow slats, or some similar style that promotes visibility.

Fencing Disputes, Variances, and Zoning Issues

In the event that you run into any issues, variances may be granted. Investigate your state’s statutes and find out what your City or County zoning ordinances are. Also, carefully review the association’s CC&Rs and/or bylaws.

Here are a few examples that may warrant such actions:

  • You need a fence that is taller than the law allows. If your neighbor agrees to this, you may be able to obtain a variance.
  • You recently purchased your home, and the current fence seems to violate the laws that you’ve researched. You feel the fence needs to come down. If the fence was built prior to the law, the fence can remain. If you’ve educated yourself on the law and know the history of the fence, you are in a better position to take action as needed.
  • If your neighbor is the one pursuing a modification to a boundary fence and you’re the one who is not in favor of the construction, you can voice your concerns directly to the neighbor or contact your association board of directors.

Fence Maintenance

 Once you’ve constructed or modified your fence, you’ll need to ensure that the fence is always kept clean and safe. Everything should be in proper working order, and nothing should be unsightly or left damaged (think latches and hardware, splintering boards, weather damage, etc.). This will prevent any future problems with your neighbors and alleviate the potential for any site violations.

Properly maintained fences are also a good indicator of how well the overall neighborhood is maintained. When shopping for a new home, buyers are often influenced by the condition of the fences in the community. Fences can greatly influence property values!

By taking the time to follow proper procedure, obtain the necessary permits and approvals, hire a qualified contractor, and by following the tips above, you can rest assured that you’ve done your part to improve the fencing on your property. Now it’s time to enjoy your good fencing.

Michael Kwiatek, ARM, CPM, CMCA, AMS is a portfolio community association manager at Brooks Real Estate, Inc. He's been managing properties for over 25 years. He is an active member of SEVA-CAI and currently serves on the Communications committee.

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