Chicago and Suburban Cities Have Fence Building Codes and Regulations
For most homeowners, fences seem simple. Built to enclose parts of their home’s lot, they are an attractive improvement that protects children and pets and keeps them from wandering off. They also often serve as privacy screens and add security to the home by making it more difficult for intruders to trespass. A good fence also blocks the wind and helps families enjoy outdoor activities. The added value fences provide for homes is another plus. It can be hard for many people, though, to understand why it seems so complicated to install a fence. It sometimes seems like city governments put up too many barriers to creating such a simple outdoor project.
In most cities in the Chicago metro area, installing a fence means getting a building permit, choosing from only those materials that are allowed, understanding how tall it can be built, and following many other restrictions, limitations and other ordinances. As a responsible homeowner, you naturally want a good-looking, sturdy, well-built fence for your home. So, why can’t you just put up what you want without all of the hassles? The answer is simple: Without fence codes and regulations, some people will build the cheapest fence possible. They will use substandard materials, skimp on construction techniques, create very tall barriers to hide their activities, or otherwise create a nuisance, rather than an asset, in the neighborhood. Fence codes are designed to set and enforce common sense standards for everyone.
Fence Codes and Ordinances Affect Many Aspects of the Design
Each city sets specifications and limitations to regulate a number of factors for any fence built in that city. Below, you’ll find a list of the most common features that are regulated, along with the reasons for those rules:
Building Permits and Inspections Ensure Compliance
Every city requires that property owners obtain a building permit before creating most fences. To get a permit, the owner indicates where the fence will be built on the property, how high it will be, and what materials and construction will be used. The permit review process allows city officials to ensure that designs meet their codes. Once the installation is completed, a required inspection checks to see if it was built properly.
Property Line Rules and Codes Protect Property Rights
Odds are that you don’t know precisely where your property lines are located. Even if an existing fence is on the property, it may not be placed correctly. Every city requires that property lines be accurately located before a fence is built. In most cases, the installation must be completely inside the property lines, including underground post footings. Additionally, most fences must have the most attractive side facing to the outside. These rules are designed to protect property rights and avoid disputes between neighbors.
Maximum Heights Prevent High Barricades
Imagine your next-door neighbor building a 10′ high solid stockade fence. Such fences are unwanted in almost every residential neighborhood. They block views, sometimes conceal illegal activities and harm property values. Most Chicago area cities restrict residential fences to 6′ in height and only allow tall fences in side and rear yards. Maximum heights elsewhere on the lot are usually lower.
Materials Restrictions Ensure Attractive Appearance and Safety
Many city fence codes specify what materials may be used. Typical materials allowed almost everywhere are wood, ornamental metal, and PVC vinyl wood substitutes. Chain link fences are sometimes prohibited in front yards, due to their less attractive appearance. Ugly materials like corrugated metal, chicken wire, and scrap materials are prohibited, because they detract from property values. Dangerous fences made of barbed wire, razor wire, sharp spikes and electrically charged fences are almost always prohibited for obvious reasons. Those restrictions are needed, because some people would use such materials if the rules did not exist.
Not Every Design Is Appropriate for Every Location
Tall solid privacy fences are allowed in all cities, but only in rear yards and sometimes side yards. For front yards and yards facing public streets, such fences would detract from neighborhood appearance. So, building codes require fences in front yards to be of open construction and decorative in appearance. Utilitarian chain link fences are also prohibited in front yards in many cities. In some cities no front yard fences at all are allowed. Each city has its own standards, based on community standards.
Special Districts Require Compatible Designs and Restrictions
In most Chicago area cities, historical areas and zones with architecturally distinct homes have very strict requirements for materials and designs. Often any installation in such areas requires additional reviews by a governing board before a permit will be issued. Subdivisions and developments governed by an HOA also may have covenants and restrictions on fencing to protect an appearance standard for that development.
Properties at Street Intersections Have Unique Ordinances
Corner lots in residential areas are highly desirable by homeowners. However, the presence of intersecting streets means that drivers must be able to see traffic at the intersection. Most cities have designated sight triangles of various widths where fencing is either not allowed or only low fences are permitted. Similar restrictions may apply at driveways or alleyways. Specific rules protect public safety and prevent accidents.
Other Situations Require Special Regulations and Codes
Utility poles and transformer pedestals, utility easements, drainage and flood control areas and other easements on your property may also require special consideration. Rules and ordinances vary from city to city, but you may have to use special construction techniques for fences in those areas. Utility and city workers must be able to access the area, and fences cannot be allowed to block water from draining properly. If those requirements are ignored, the property owner may be responsible for any damage if access is necessary.
Without Building Permits, Codes and Fence Regulations, Problems Can Occur
Not every property owner understands or cares that a fence affects more than just one property. Many people lack consideration for others, and might build structures that hurt property values, pose dangers, are simply unsightly, or put up poorly designed or constructed barriers. That is the sad fact that has led every city to establish standards for fences as well as for buildings on properties within the city. While the need to follow those standards, obtain a permit and have post-installation inspections might seem unnecessary to thoughtful property owners, history has proven that they are needed. Established standards for building projects protect everyone, and are a necessary part of any project.