If you have an existing legally built fence and you are looking to replace it, you may need a permit depending on your location and the fence height.

In most cases, you will not need a permit to replace an existing fence as long as the fence you are building is the same height or smaller. You may need a permit in some counties if you are replacing a security or privacy fence that is 8 feet or taller.

You will need to check your local state and county laws here regarding property line fence laws.

In the United States, zoning laws require homeowners to obtain a permit before replacing a permitted fence. However, these laws also make room for exemptions which vary from state to state. For example, Chesapeake Virginia zoning laws require a permit to replace fences taller than 8 feet but exempt fences that are 8-feet or lower. The regulations also require you to get a permit, even if you replace a part of the fence. 

Many homeowners wrongly assume that a permit is only required when replacing their entire fence. This belief could make you contravene local fence and zoning codes, and you may be forced to pay a fine. Situations where it is necessary to get a permit to get a fence replaced include: 

  1. Where your initial permitted fence is irreparably damaged and needs a complete replacement.
  2. When you intend to replace a non-masonry (wooden, metal, composite, or vinyl) fence with a masonry (brick, stone, concrete) fence. 
  3. Where you intend to replace a non-masonry that is less than 6-feet tall with a non-masonry fence that is higher than six-feet.
  4. Where you intend to perform a major repair or restoration of your existing permitted fence.
  5. You will need a permit in situations where local codes have been rewritten to make a non-permitted fence require a permit before installation or replacement.
Do I need a permit to build a fence

What is the difference between a replacement and a repair?

Typically, you do not need a permit to perform basic repairs on a fence, and gradually replacing large sections of your fence in a bid to build a taller or a different fencing doesn’t constitute a repair. 

Repair. 

Routine fence maintenance and repair may involve replacing a rotted post, boards, or a few pickets. However, you have to meet the following criteria for such activities to constitute a repair.

  1. You must replace the materials and items removed from the fence with similar materials and items of the same type and size, and design.
  2. There must not be any difference in the original shape, height, size, and design of the fence after completing the repair.  
  3. Materials used in the repair must match the existing fencing materials.

Replacement. 

Replacement is done in situations where the entire fence or large sections of the fencing is in a state of disrepair and must undergo rehabilitation. Damage from fallen trees or vehicular impact could result in large areas of your fence requiring replacement. 

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How do I apply for a permit?

One of the keys to a successful application is having your paperwork in order. When applying for a fencing permit, you must provide local building and planning officials with accurate paperwork, which includes the following documents:

  1. A notice of commencement. 
  2. An encroachment permit if the proposed fence is located in a public right of way.
  3. An easement waiver from a utility company if the fence is located along a utility line.
  4. You will need a physical survey sample of the property or a scaled site plan.
  5. An approval letter from your HOA, if required.

You are also required to submit documents providing the following information:

  1. Property location and identification.
  2. The identity of the project contractor or the individuals building the fence.
  3. A technical description or rendering of the proposed fence, which includes the structural dimensions and material specifications.
  4. The breakdown of the estimated cost for the proposed fence.

Here’s a valuable checklist that can help you survive the maze of laws, documents, inspections, and preliminary approvals – in short, anything planning officials throw at you.

Take a trip to your local building and planning office and have a chat with officials about the following:   

  • If the fence you intend to build requires a permit in the first place.
  • Find out the required paperwork for the permit application. City officials can help you compile the needed documents.
  • The fencing statutes relevant to your project.
  • The permit fee and any other costs associated with the permitting process.
  • Assemble all your documents, including detailed sketches of your proposed fence to the local building and planning office.
  • Submit your filled application for a fence permit along with your documents, and pay an application fee, if required.
  • Once your application is successful, pay the permit fee and collect your fence permit.

The amount of paperwork involved in the permitting process can be overwhelming for the average homeowner. A licensed contractor (if you are hiring one to build the fence) can apply for the permit on your behalf and save you a ton of stress. 

How long does the application process take?

On average, the entire process takes between a week to three weeks, but ultimately it depends on your local building and planning office. A fencing permit application rarely takes more than a month after submission before being approved or denied.

The factors that can influence the length of the permitting process include:

  1. Preliminary approvals or secondary permits. These must be secured before you submit your application. For example, easement waivers and encroachment permits.
  2. Size of the project. Local fence inspectors may need to make multiple inspections before approving extensive fencing projects 
  3. Your location. For example, your fence may need approval first by your HOA or preservation board (if you reside in a historical district) which could extend your application timeline significantly. 

How much does a fence permit cost?

Permit fees for fence construction are calculated in $1,000 increments, based on the estimated costs of your proposed fence.  

For example, see permit fees for Chesapeake, Virginia Department of Zoning and Permits for a fence-building project with a quoted cost of $2,000 in the table below.

Range Permit feeTechnology feeTotal
$0 - $1,000$ 45.00$5$50
$1,000 - $2,000$55$5$60

There is an additional $10 increase in the permit fee for every $1,000 increase in the fence value. 

Spa/swimming pool fences have special inspection requirements resulting in significantly higher permit fees than yard/perimeter fences.

What happens if I build a fence without a permit?

The municipality could impose fines, including possible additional penalties if caught by officials putting up a fence without the required permit. The sequence of events may also involve zoning officials issuing you a stop-work notice and an additional notice forcing you to pull down the fence. Also, they can make you pay for a permit before installing a new fence. Obtaining a permit before building a fence is often in the best interests of the homeowner. 

Certain factors often influence the enforcement and penalty for constructing a fence without a permit. Some of these factors often make actual fence construction or rehabilitation difficult for homeowners. And on the other end of the spectrum, some homeowners take undue advantage of certain factors to put up an unauthorized fence. They are:

Your area of residence

Cities

Building a non-permitted fence in a city like New York is almost impossible compared to smaller towns. Large built-up cities have strict fencing statutes and neighborhood design provisions with strict enforcement that is usually accompanied by heavy fines for even the most minor violations.

Rural areas.

Farm country residents have it easier than big city dwellers in terms of enforcement and penalties. Farmers are usually at liberty to install farm fences such as barbed wire and post-rail fence almost anywhere on their property without a permit as long as local codes are adhered to. In most instances, farmers can apply for a fence permit after-the-fact provided the fence does not violate local fencing codes and is not on a public right of way.

Homeowners Association (HOA)

Your HOA regulations can take precedence over municipal codes. And several municipalities will not issue you a fence permit without approval from your HOA. Non-permitted fences are a big problem with HOAs, and the committee can demand that you remove the fence and impose fines.

Historical district.

You are subject to stricter fencing guidelines and regulations if you reside in an area of historical relevance. Any new fencing project in such a place must get a preservation commission approval before the municipality can approve a fence permit. Homeowners who build a fence without a permit can face strict penalties and heavy fines. 

Apart from short-term fines and penalties, there are long-term effects of installing a non-permitted fence on your property. They include:

Refusal for home refinancing.

Your banker may deny your home refinancing application if you install a non-permitted fence on your property. Each permitted home improvement job, including a fencing project, increases your home’s value, and a tax assessor archives it.  During a refinancing evaluation, your banker may find it difficult to determine your property’s actual value when non-archived changes are made, which may result in a rejection.

Lower property value.

Installing a fence without obtaining a permit can reduce the value of your property. 

Lack of buyer interest.

Home shoppers avoid properties without a fencing permit or approval. Such properties are usually subject to future fines from authorities, and most homeowners will prefer to avoid such.

How big of a structure can I build without a permit?

Zonal codes have a specified limit to how tall you can build a non-permitted fence. The limits are: 

  1. A maximum height of 6-feet for a backyard fence. 
  2. A maximum height of  4-feet for a fence fronting a street.

FAQ’s

It is a generally accepted rule that the good side of the fence should face your neighbor. However, no law specifies the location of the good side of the fence. The ‘good side’ means the smooth and polished flank that offers a better view to visitors. In contrast, the flank with the rails is considered the wrong side. However, there are ways to go about this. Some fence construction techniques interchange the smooth-facing front panels with the rear-facing rails every few feet, presenting both yourself and your neighbor an equal view of both sides of the fence. 

Both yourself and your neighbor are required by law to share equal costs of installing a perimeter fence bordering their properties as long as they both benefit from the fence. You and your neighbor can’t share fence construction costs if the fence is located on your property or your neighbors. 

Yes, you can, if you can prove that your neighbor benefits from the fence. The best approach is to meet with your neighbor to discuss his share of the fence construction costs. California’s Civil Code Section 841 (Good Neighbors Fence Law) allows you to give your neighbor 30 days’ written notice before starting construction. If your neighbor refuses to pay, you can take legal action, including arbitration or a lawsuit. 

Funso Ogunnowo
Author: Funso Ogunnowo - Funso is a freelance writer with over ten years of experience working as an accountant. His love for writing prompted his foray into the world of freelance writing, and he is active on freelance websites like Upwork, where he has completed several writing projects for different clients.