fence issue

fleur222August 11, 2010

We have had more than our share of problems with this house that we have owned now for several years. It seems like the problems never end and all we have ever done is fix and improve, fix and improve.

Last summer, we put up a fence in the corner of our back yard. We finally have some privacy in the back yard and it is one feature that we really enjoy about this home.

Before putting up the fence, we contacted the city building office and we were told no permit was required. We could build a fence up to 6 ft in height in back and side yard.

Little did we know that a neighbor down the street was just forced to lower their fence because in this city, a corner property's side yard is treated like the front yard. So it seems that our neighbor down the street now wants us to have to lower our fence. The city has a zero rate of approving variances for fences, I am told. There are many more 6 ft high fences in the neighborhood. And there are even more who have solid bushes of even greater height on the corner, but this is not considered a fence in our town. Ours is actually less than 6 feet if you consider the spindles on the top, but a front yard has a height limit of 4 feet.

Does anyone see any way of fighting this? Or would you just comply. I feel upset because it seems unfair, because of the cost, because I feel it will damage the beautiful fence we bought (a quality fence), because we will lose the privacy of the back yard, and because of the hassle of it all.

How can the city take this up with some and not others? I wish I could gather up everyone and we could force the zoning committee to vote in favor of some of the variances, since some people have been allowed their fences for years.

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Contact the city building office. If your yard is not a corner lot, I don't see how your neighbor can require you to take down or lower your fence.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 4:20PM
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Suero, thank you for the response, but our home is on a corner lot. We had not heard that a corner lot is considered to have two front yards before putting up our fence. We phoned the building office prior to putting up the fence and were told that we did not need a permit, that we could put up a fence up to the height of 6 feet on the side or back of our property.
It is confusing, because the side and back of our home where we placed the fence is considered our second front yard by the city. The zoning dept is not the same as the building dept, even though the offices are next door to each other in the same building. We did not know that we could have found out more information by asking at the zoning dept.
I personally think if the city had required a permit, this would not have occurred.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 4:25AM
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Put up a hedge.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 8:18AM
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Has the county actually asked you to reduce the height? I would not do anything until your are officially contacted. BTW, home maintenance is one of the many joys of home ownership... Consider the alternative!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 1:18PM
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We had a corner lot in our last home and ran into fence issues. Our side yard was our backyard, from the way the house was placed on the lot. Our fence could not go out past the front of the house, so the fence would have had to run down the center of the backyard. Would not have been pretty, nor make any sense. We did not put in a fence for that reason. The new owner of the property did put in a fence (she has a day care), and the fence sure looks funny sitting down the middle of the lot.
Kathy G in MI

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 12:38AM
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You discussed this same problem in September 2009. Are you saying nothing has been resolved?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 8:44PM
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Joed, we can put up a hedge. But we did pay thousands for the fence. If the city had required a permit, we would have been informed and would not have put up the fence as high as we did. As it is, we phoned and were not given the information that a corner lot is considered to have two front yards.

Nycefarm, Yes, we have been officially contacted by the city and have been told to either take it down completely, put up a shorter one, or move it about 35 feet. Or apply for a variance, for which we have been told that we will not get because there is a history of zero acceptance. And, why should the city allow one citizen to decide who gets to keep and who doesn't. There are at least 5- 10 similar fences within a mile of my home. It is a chain reaction though. One homeowner has to take theirs down, they complain about a nearby home out of bitterness and so on.

Kathyg, Our situation is similar. Unfortunately, we learned too late. Our city offices are known for their dysfunction.

Monablair, I spoke with the director of planning and zoning about the fact that I believe this would not have occurred if permits were required, etc.. He said I had some valid points and would get back to me. He never phoned back, and the enforcing officer took another positon, so we waited. Yes, still dealing with it.

I guess the situation is pretty clear, and we have little leverage, but who has thousands to throw away these days, while knowing that several others around you get to keep their money (ie fence) and their privacy? It is a feeling of not being fair when we made an honest attempt to do it correctly and know that if we had been informed that we would not have put it up in the first place. Maybe my post is more of a vent, since it seems there is not much else we can do. The fence issue is only one situation we have had with this home and I will be happy when we can and do move from here someday.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 11:15PM
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If you get a smart contractor, he/she should be able to take down your existing fence in large panels and use most of them for the new one.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 8:15AM
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Plant vines on it and call it a trellis.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 8:25AM
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If you're sure you can't win this fight, I'd lower the fence height to 4'.

And just inside your fence erect a 6' high trellis and plant fast growing vines all over it.

I know there was a property owner in this city that did this and the trellis and plants weren't under the fence height restriction. Maybe this would work for you?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 1:09PM
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Thank you all for your suggestions. Without going into all of the details, the fence came about originally because we were trying to address another problem, that several accidents occurred at our corner, including one of a city cop, and another where a car hit my son's bedroom in the middle of the night. We ended up putting up a stone wall on the front end and a fence on the back end.

There has been a lot of work and money put into this house and it hasn't loved us back too much!
The contractor came out yesterday. It seems we have about 3 choices. I would love to know what you think.

1. Move the 6ft fence to the back 3/4 of the very back of our property. We don't really need it there because the neighbor has shrubbery and we have privacy from there. At the end of the fence, we could place arborvite trees where the fence was previously to give us privacy. This would include paying for new posts at about $40 a post, cement, the trees and labor... maybe $2000 or more.

2. Take down the fence, cut the bottom panels about 1 and 1/2- 2 feet, buy new posts and reinstall where it was previously. We lose privacy, so maybe installing some plantings to gain privacy. More labor, probably less cost than option 1 though.

3. Move the fence back 35 feet so it is very close to the side of our home. Pay for the posts, cement, labor, and a gate. The enclosed part of the yard is much smaller and it seems to leave the side yard rather useless. Not sure about how that might affect resale. This is probably about the same cost as the second option, if we added plantings to the second.

Any option look better than the other?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 2:42PM
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I'd go with option 2. I don't know where you live, but Clumping Bamboo grows about 8-10' in a year and doesn't become invasive.

With option 3 you'd be making your yard appear smaller and why would you want to do that?

Option 2 still wouldn't give you the additional barrier against cars.

Is there any ordinance against placing decorative rocks in your yard? I'm talking about really big boulder type rocks that would damage and slow down any car coming into your yard. I'd think about setting them down about 5 feet from the road and about 2-3' apart from each other. We did this in a previous home when we had cars all over our yard as they tried to take a shortcut. A couple of run-ins with these rocks certainly ended our problem. I think these rocks might even keep a car from reaching your fence.

You shouldn't have to live in fear that an accident on that corner will result in damage to your home or a family member. What kind of people live in your neighborhood that wouldn't see your concerns over this matter?

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 6:34PM
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I would plant a type of evergreen tree, keep them very close together and it'll be like a fence. This way they can grow as tall as you want without breaking the law. Corner lots are tricky because the town wants people driving to see each other when approaching intersections.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 9:03AM
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I appreciate all of the responses.
justbreathe, our fence is on the back corner of our property, so there is no issue with the intersection. Across the street is a baseball field. We could plant trees, but already have a fence we paid thousands for. Also, we preferred fencing to the trees for a few reasons.
There is an update. I have spoken to some very kind workers at the zoning dept. I learned that a variance is not out of the question. There is some substantial cost to going in this direction also, but at least it is another possibility. The previous worker told me that there is a zero variance history. I am going to hope for the best.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2010 at 2:59PM
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Ask for the variance but put up the rocks. Unless the posts are structural steel and placed very far in the ground fences will not stop a speeding car. Even a low speed impact will take down most fences. If you put up the fence to keep cars out it will not work.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 1:40AM
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Maifleur, Our plan was to put some stone planters behind the fence, but we heard from the city so soon after the fence was installed that we stopped any other landscaping. Rocks would probably be even better. We put a stone wall on the other corner of our property where the most frequent accidents have occurred. The corner with the fence is less of a problem, partly because the fence highlights the road now and partly because the accidents typically have come from the other direction. (but not always)
I do appreciate the reminder though, that a fence will not stop a speeding car.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 8:28AM
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Your community sucks. Where in California do you live? Try replacing the whole thing with razor wire. It seems like the right thing to do.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2010 at 3:52PM
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"Your community sucks."

There are a lot of other places with similar rules.

Fences and bushes within X feet of an intersection cannot be higher than Y feet.

It is to preserve the sight lines at the intersections.

Pulling out blind because of obstructions tends to lead to accidents eventually.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 11:35AM
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if you remove the fence and cut a foot or two off the offending sections...why do you need new posts..can they not be cut down as well....almost sounds like a homeowner job if you havethe right tools. Then plant some Arbs. Then threaten to sue for discrimination if they do not force everyone to remove their fences.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 3:03PM
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I'm on a corner lot also. If I want a 6 foot fence along the side of my house, it has to be 30 feet from the street. Well, my yard isn't that big, so I have a 4 foot fence.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 7:44PM
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