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Do We Need a Permit to Get a Fence Installed in Seattle?

Do We Need a Permit to Get a Fence Installed in Seattle?

Are you thinking about building a new fence in the Seattle area? If you are, then it is important to learn about the permit process which, in part, govern how fences are built. While a fence under six feet may not require a permit, it’s still important to know and understand how the permit process works.

For example, the Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) is the approving authority for any construction project, including fences, within city limits. But don’t let that bog you down – obtaining a permit is not as complicated or intimidating as it may sound. And remember, there may be rules, but they aren’t impossible to abide by.

Talk to Your Neighbors and HOA First

Don’t be an inconsiderate neighbor. Before applying for a permit, communicate with your neighbors and the Homeowners Association (HOA) to see that everyone agrees about your plan. Violating your HOA’s policy or infringing on a neighbor’s rights could end up costing you more than just a permit fee.
You may not be breaking the law or trespassing, but informing your neighbors of the fence you intend to build is courteous – after all, we all want to be good neighbors. And if they do have a problem with your project, try to work out a compromise between all parties before proceeding any further. The last thing you need is a lawsuit or argument with your neighbors because of a misunderstanding.

Types of Fences That Need a Permit in Seattle

When applying for a permit, specify the fence type you plan to build. Here are the types of fences that typically require a permit in Seattle:
Privacy Fences – These are typically 6′ or higher and limit visibility into a yard.
Retaining Walls – These structures support soil and keep it from eroding.
Pool Enclosures – These are fences that surround public or private swimming pools.
Security Fences and Gates – These are usually heavy-duty fences or gates that provide added security to a property.
Decorative Fencing – These fences, i.e., picket or garden fences, add aesthetic value to a property.
Why do these types of fences require a permit, you ask? It’s because they are considered permanent structures – and, thus, must comply with building codes set by the SDCI. For instance, using concrete or masonry over six feet tall indicates your motive for making the fence a permanent fixture. As such, the local government must ensure it is structurally sound and not dangerous to the public, justifying the need for a permit.

Height Restrictions

Washington state law governs fence height requirements for the backyard in residential properties, while county and city laws are to be followed in determining the correct fence height for front yards. Seattle’s fence regulations are as follows:
A house belonging to a residential neighborhood in Seattle can have a fence without a permit if it doesn’t exceed six feet in height. But the SDCI affords an additional two feet for aesthetic features, i.e., lattice, trellises, etc., as long as they don’t obstruct visibility.

In scenarios where there’s a pressing need to construct a fence on top of a retaining wall, i.e., to offset a steep grade, the total fence height (including the retaining wall) must not exceed nine and a half feet. Fences can also go up to as high as eight feet when dealing with a slope, like a hillside

The SDCI allows for a variance in fence height when you have special needs such as noise insulation. In these cases, however, you must provide evidence to prove that an extended height is absolutely necessary.
All things considered, the rule is that if you exceed the six-foot threshold, you must have a permit and abide by the city’s zoning regulations.
Most cities in Washington, including Seattle, don’t have strict regulations on the front yard fence’s height, although it’s tradition for public authorities to set a limit of four feet. Moreover, if you live in a historic district, the regulations may be stricter than typical residential areas. Preserving the area’s historic ambience is the priority for such districts.

Placement Concerns

You can build a fence wherever you need, so long as it’s within your property. However, the fence should never trespass on your neighbour’s land or restrict their right of way. These two issues have long plagued the construction of fences in residential areas and have driven many to court.

Be mindful of the placement of a privacy fence – try to install it wherever it doesn’t obstruct the view from windows or vehicles. The SDCI may reject your permit application if you don’t follow such regulations.
A fence shouldn’t be placed on or within 25 feet of public streets and sidewalks because it may interfere with traffic visibility, impede any necessary repairs or make it hard for the city to clean up snow.
Building your fence at least one foot from the lot line is required. That said, if you’re building a fence through your shared property line with your neighbor, it’s best to get written consent before you proceed.

Getting a Permit for Your Fence in Seattle

In most instances, building a fence over six feet tall means, you should furnish a construction permit. If it’s a residential fence, you will most likely be required to have a subject-to-field construction permit. It means you must fill out an application form and produce documents for the review process, including, but not limited to, drawings and scaled site plans.
You will also need to provide the fee charged by SDCI and a site plan that contains an accurate survey of your property, all boundaries, and any existing structures within your lot. In some cases, depending on the size of your project, you may be asked to submit other documents, i.e., structural calculations or soil reports.

What Else Should I Know Before Applying for a Fence Permit?

It’s typical for individual neighborhoods in Seattle to have their own set of regulations. Keep in mind that these regulations are agreed upon by the HOA when you move into a particular community. So, it’s not like you can choose not to comply. As such, it makes perfect sense to learn of your area’s rules before setting out to build a fence, or you may face fines or have to take down whatever you’ve built.

For nearly six decades, Town and Country Fence has stood as the premier fencing authority in King and Snohomish Counties in the Seattle area. Our enduring legacy emphasizes our steadfast dedication to our community and to our customers. If you need a new fence, give us a call today at 425-775-0531 and ask for Brian.

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