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How Close to My Neighbor’s Boundary Can I Build?

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Property lines can be frustrating to attend to when you are looking to build a new garage, shed, or fence near your neighbor’s property. The ability to build on your property will have different requirements depending on where you live, both in the country and what type of populated area, from city to countryside. 

The building distance limit depends on the structure you intend on building. It usually ranges between five to 15 feet. It is important to communicate property boundaries with your neighbor before beginning any permanent or semi-permanent projects, due to the risk of township or county penalties. 

building close to neighbor

The type of permanent fixture you want to build determines the property boundary rules, differing between sheds, pools, fences, and other buildings or fixtures. The range of how far you need to build these types of projects is set by legal standards according to your local government. Read on to learn more about rules and regulations regarding how close you can build to your neighbor’s property boundary.

Table of Contents

What to Know Before Building a Structure

If you are new to home ownership or are learning about property legalities for the first time, then there are a few terms and situations to know about before adding on to your property. A few key terms to note when discussing building permits are:

  • Setbacks
  • Easements
  • Quitclaim deeds

With these terms, it will be easier to navigate your options when it comes time to make an arrangement with your neighbor or with the local government. The last point to be aware of is being communicative with everyone involved in the building process, and making sure to do your research to avoid hiccups along the way.

Setbacks

Setbacks are the term for the distance required between the new structure and the property line. Setbacks also include the distance between one structure and another, such as the house and the new garage that you want to build.

The town or county government determines how much distance should be between the new structure and the house, sidewalk, or river.

Easements

If your property lines do not allow enough space for your desired addition or new building, then you can opt to discuss a property arrangement with your neighbor. Easements allow you to use the agreed amount of property of your neighbor and may be implied or legally binding. 

If a dispute were to happen post-easement arrangement, the easement can be mentioned in the property dispute. In case of such a scenario, it is highly recommended to have a form of documentation that proves the agreement on an easement between neighbors.

Quitclaim Deeds

Quitclaim deeds are legal agreements set by neighbors who do not know where their property lines end or want to transfer property to one another to make the property line even.

Quitclaim deeds require an attorney to be present to authorize the changes made to the original property deeds so that future homeowners know where the property lines begin and end. 

Communication and Research

The bottom line to wanting to build near a property line is to communicate with your neighbors and local government offices. Talking about what your plan is to those whom it may directly affect is the best way to hopefully avoid tension and complications in the future. 

Knowing where to start and who to talk to is part of the first step in this process. Spend time researching who your local government officials are and who handles the authorization of building permits in your area before making any construction arrangements. The permit can be the longest part of your project, so the sooner you submit a permit for authorization, the better. 

Unfortunately, if your building permit is not authorized, you will be unable to proceed into the construction phase, or you will face penalties. If your permit is denied, you may have the option to appeal the decision and have your state’s zoning board reassess your permit requirements. 

Permits Take Time

Submitting a permit is the first half of the permitting process, the next half being the authorization. All building permits need to be authorized before you are able to continue construction, which can take anywhere between a few days to a few months. After you have had your property surveyed is a good point to submit a building permit, but be careful of the timing as well.

Depending on your state laws, permits are time-sensitive, meaning they are only valid for a set amount of time ranging from six months to a year. Once your permit has been authorized, start construction as soon as possible, as some permits will become invalid if construction does not start within a set amount of time or is not completed by a set deadline. 

Building Requirements

Most building projects begin with acquiring a building permit. Depending on your state, county, and township, there might be differences in building laws that should be able to be located on the state website. If not, then it would be best to call your county or township legal offices, since you will need to file a building permit through them anyway. 

A common range that you are able to build structures varies between five to 15 feet from the property line. The tricky part of this range is knowing where your property line ends and where your neighbor’s property line begins.

Not all properties are cut in straight lines, making for easy line identification, so it is in your best interest to refer to property documents, such as the deed, or to contact a surveyor to assess the property lines. 

Which Projects Require Permits?

Any major renovation or structure addition to your property will most likely require a building permit. Interior renovations do not require permits, as they do not often infringe on other property lines or your neighbor’s ease of access to and of their property. However, you might need a permit if you are planning to renovate the exterior walls, a porch, or a patio. 

The most common major projects that require building permits include:

Building permits are not only for exterior plans, as there are permit-required restrictions placed on projects involving load-bearing structures, changes to utilities, and if the project will cost over $5,000. Changes to utilities include:

  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Heating & cooling
  • Structural, such as floor additions or extensive repairs

If any part of your project matches these criteria, you may need a permit. With projects that are questionable, it is the best-case scenario to call and ask, rather than take the risk of having to pay fines later.

Building Penalties and Disputes

Building any type of permanent or difficult-to-remove structure close to the line that divides your property and your neighbor’s property can result in a legal penalty if the correct permits are not approved. This violation often results in fines and may result in the order of the structure’s removal before a deadline, or the jurisdiction will order for the removal, then charge you.

This type of violation is known as a zoning violation and can range in severity from fines to criminal charges, depending on what an investigation uncovers. Any new structure or addition to a property will need to be inspected multiple times after its completion to ensure that safety regulations are met. If there is an issue, there may be fines for negligent quality.  

Other types of penalties can be long-term, such as not being able to apply for future permits. Zoning violations can result in properties selling for less than market value or not being sold at all if the property does not meet the current zoning regulations. In cases of violation, you have the option to appeal the violation claims in hopes of resolving the situation. 

Conclusion

The extended process of obtaining a permit, figuring out one’s property lines, and the lengthy construction process can be a process that is tiring for many, especially if you are applying for a permit for the first time. The finished product when the process is over is one of the greatest pleasures in the world of homeownership, with the benefit of long-awaited gratification and excitement. 

You also maybe interested in a new project, so be sure to checkout our list of deck to patio transition ideas, that sure to leave your backyard looking its best!

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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2 Comments

  1. Hello my neighbor is building a fence about 2.5 feet of the existing fence and the height is almost 9 feet it blocks the sun and I have a ugly fence to look at is this legal? Just wandering if the city wants to come by and have a look at it
    My adress is 809 Avenue E north his yard is on the south side of my yard

    1. Hi Erik, I would check with local code authority. Some local cities or counties require a permit for fences over 8 feet.

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