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Fences, Additions And Decks – Check Your Local Laws (Municipal Ordinances)

by | Nov 16, 2020 | Municipal Law

Most Americans consider homeownership to be the “American Dream.” If you Google “homeownership and Americans,” there are numerous articles pertaining to this aspiration. Most Americans should understand that homeownership comes with an ongoing price tag. In addition to the cost of purchasing the home, the upkeep, repairs, taxes, and upgrades continue to be a sometimes-hefty continuing-expense for the homeowner. (A family-member once described homeownership as hooking up a vacuum cleaner hose to your wallet.) These expenses, however, are expected by most.

What is unexpected by many is the fact that if you decide to fence-in your property, or build a deck, or some other addition to your home, in addition to the cost of construction and installation, there is another price tag to consider. That is, the need to obtain a permit from your town, borough, that is, local government.

More often than not, a permit must be obtained from the local government before you can install a fence, build a deck, or add an addition to your home. The homeowner will have to pay for that permit directly or be charged by the contractor as part of the cost of the construction.

Permits are charged by a local government and range from under $50 on up. Obviously, a fence installation will be less expensive than an addition to your home. The fees are set by the local government’s governing body, such as the Borough/Town Council or Township Board of Supervisors, or other governing body. The fees can change from year to year. Information about obtaining an application for a permit, and the cost of such a permit, can be obtained simply by calling the office of the local government and asking. Most local governments have their laws, called ordinances, on-line as well. Much of the information you need will most likely be contained in the zoning ordinance for the town. But again, this type of research can be daunting to a non-attorney. This is one of those times that you might want to consult an attorney.

A homeowner cannot necessarily depend on their contractor to obtain the permit for them. Experienced contractors understand that local governments can have laws that pertain to any type of construction or installation. Most towns employ inspectors to check out any new construction to make sure it conforms to local laws AND to make sure a permit was obtained before the fence was installed, or the addition or deck was built. Some contractors will say they are taking care of the permit and supposedly include it in the cost of construction. If they do not do so, however, you, as the homeowner will still be responsible for the consequences of not obtaining, and paying, for a permit. This could cost you more money as your local government can fine you for not complying with their ordinances.

By way of example, if you have a fence contractor tell you that they have taken care of the permit, or advise you that you do not need one, and this is incorrect, then your local government can fine you or even try to force you to take down the fence. If you continue to ignore the local government is aware, most will not be ignored! They could find you every day that you ignore their citation which says you did not follow their laws. In that case, the fight could end up in front of the local Zoning Hearing Board, or even eventually in court. But that is a discussion for a separate article. There are added costs in such a situation, and you might need to hire an attorney as well.

Rather than get into an all-out fight with your local government, which could result in costing you, as the homeowner, much more than you bargained for, or requiring you to take down your fence, or deck, or addition, it is better to consult an attorney before you put up that fence, build a deck or construct an addition to your home. If you choose not to do so, and a mistake is made, most likely you will certainly have to consult an attorney after you receive a citation from your local government for ignoring their laws.

To learn more, visit our Municipal Law page.

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