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You Need a Permit for That Fence

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Image of Fence
The fence. Humble, lowly fence: shields us from our neighbors, keeps the dog safe, easy for a homeowner to install. And it needs a building permit.
It surprises many homeowners that building permits are not confined solely to buildings. Even a fence must, in most cases, be permitted.

Fence Permits Depends on the Locality

Fence permitting is not universal. Some localities require it, while others don't. Also, the fence permits may be issued either on the city or county level.

For example, I live in King County, in the Seattle, Washington area. If I wish to construct a fence in unincorporated King County, I must contact King County. If I wish to construct a fence in a city (that is, incorporated), I apply at the city level. You will find this type of arrangement in many localities.

Fence Permits Are Limited to the Type of Fence

Often, fence permitting depends on the type of fence. In unincorporated areas, you often find that fences less than six feet tall do not require permits. In cities, though, almost any type of fence will need a permit. The rural, unincorporated areas also give more leeway as to the type of fence, since farmers and ranchers often have special needs for barbed wire, electric fences, and so on. In cities, it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain permits for these types of fences. Finally, you will find that most localities do not permit fences higher than six feet--no matter the type of fence it is.

Fence Permits Are Not Always Easy to Obtain

For such a simple thing, one would think it would be easy to obtain a fence permit. But some permitting bodies require sketches, plans, and photographs. Here's the real kicker: if your fence is shared by a neighbor, you may have to obtain written consent from that neighbor to build the fence. Whether or not you share the cost of the fence with the neighbor is a different matter. As you might suspect, bringing up the topic of fences with a neighbor can often be divisive.

Fence Permits Are Cheap--Except When They're Not

Fence permits run about $20. But I have seen fence permits exceeding $100.

Fence Companies Can Obtain Fence Permits for You

One nice thing about contracting with a fence company to put up your fence is that they may obtain the fence permit for you. This is a great time-saver, though keep in mind that the fee is still borne by you. Not all fence companies do this, but a good fence company will. Definitely ask this when getting your fence estimate.

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