Durham County, NC Fence Building Codes & Permits
Durham County does not always require a building permit when erecting a fence. A permit is always required if the site is located within “Conservation, Historic, Landmark, SPI districts or other districts requiring a Special Administrative Permit.
Fences and walls which conform to the provisions stated herein shall be permitted by the Department of Environment and Community Development. Fences erected for agricultural purposes in the AG-1 District shall be exempt from permit requirements.
Easements: No structure with the exception of fences may be located in, or otherwise obstruct any easement. Fences shall be permitted within easements subject to the receipt of written permission from the easement holder. Approval of the Zoning Administrator and applicable County Department shall be required for all fences proposed for placement in easements which are held by Durham County.
Durham County Fence and Wall Standards
Walls or fences shall be permitted in any zoning district and are not subject to setback requirements of this resolution, except that in a residential zoning district:
(1 a) Design Guidelines. The following guidelines are intended to ensure that the safety of residents and visitors is not compromised through poor landscape design. These guidelines shall be balanced against other objectives of landscaping, such as sheltering, buffering and screening purposes in the review of landscape plans.
(1 b) Landscaping should be used to define property lines and private areas with planting areas, pavement treatments, or walls and fences.
(1 c) Landscaping, fences, walls and paving treatments should be designed to guide visitors to desired entrances and away from private areas.
(2 a) Walls, Berms and Fences in Buffers. Where walls, berms or fences are built within any required project boundary buffer, they shall meet the following requirements.
(2 b) No reduction in buffer width shall be provided based on the provision of a fence.
(2 c) Fences shall be maintained in a structurally safe and attractive condition and with finished faces and plantings located towards the adjacent property with at least one upright shrub for every six linear feet of fence length.
(3) The maximum height of a fence or wall shall be as shown in the table below, unless a higher fence or wall is required by other provisions of this Ordinance or if the fence is associated with a recreational facility, such as a tennis court.
(4) Fences or walls within required street yards shall comply with the street frontage height standard.
(5) Adjustments to the height limits may be permitted by the Planning Director, or designee, due to field conditions or in order to accommodate decorative features on the fence or wall.
(6) The Board of Adjustment may issue a use permit to allow fences or walls up to eight feet in height where all of the following findings are made: (1) That the fence or wall does not impede the natural light from reaching the subject or surrounding properties to their detriment; (2) That normal circulation of air is not unreasonably impeded by the fence or wall for the subject or surrounding properties; (3) That the fence or wall will not hinder access to the subject or surrounding properties for emergency services; (4) That the fence or wall shall be reasonably compatible with the surrounding properties in that it will not adversely affect property values; (5) That vision clearances for pedestrian and vehicular traffic will not be impeded.
Conditions may be specified to protect the welfare of the neighborhood and adjacent properties.
(7) A finished side of all fences shall face off-site.
(8) Razor wire, concertina wire, barbed wire, and similar fencing materials shall be prohibited in all residential districts except in the Rural Tier.
(9) Outdoor play areas shall be fenced in accordance with the standards for fences and walls found in Sec. 9.9, Fences and Walls, with a minimum fence height of four feet. Play areas shall be located within the side or rear yard, unless the Development Review Board finds that outdoor play space within the area between the front of the structure and the street is safe, not detrimental to the neighborhood, accessible, and compatible with surrounding properties.
(10) Compact and Downtown Tiers. In the Compact and Downtown Tiers, surface parking shall be located adjacent to a street only if, in addition to landscaping materials required pursuant to Sec 9.8.2, Vehicular Use Area Perimeter Landscaping, a wall or decorative fence consistent with the requirements of Sec. 9.9, Fences and Walls, is provided in a location no further from the right-of-way than the build-to line established pursuant to Sec. 6.10.1, Nonresidential Development Standards.
(11) From and after the designation of a historic district or historic landmark, no exterior feature or designated portion of any building or other structure (including masonry walls, fences, light fixtures, steps, pavement, and other appurtenant features) nor any above-ground utility structure nor any type of outdoor advertising sign shall be erected, altered, restored, moved or demolished within or on such historic district or historic landmark until after an application for a certificate of appropriateness as to the exterior feature or designated portion has been submitted to and approved by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).
(12) Applicability. Owners of certain historic properties are required to maintain their properties and not allow them to fall into disrepair. The requirements of this subsection are applicable only to certain properties, termed “historic properties” in this subsection. That term as used in this subsection is defined to include designated historic landmarks and properties identified as “contributing” or “pivotal” in designated historic districts. Deterioration of fences, gates, and accessory structures.
Fences & Walls Cont.
(Revised September 2009) The Zoning Resolution (Section 700) and the Property Maintenance Ordinance (Section 14-301) contain requirements about the location, height, material, and maintenance of fences and walls on residential lots. In addition, the Development Regulations (Subsection 7.4.6) contain restrictions about the construction of fences and walls in a drainage easement. All of these requirements are applicable in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Fences proposed to be located in the rear yard must not exceed the maximum allowable height of 8 feet. Fences proposed to be located in the front yard must not exceed a maximum height of 4 feet. Materials used for fences in the front yard must be ornamental in design and constructed with materials such as brick, masonry, picket or split rail. Chain link or other woven wire fences are prohibited in a front yard. Corner lots have two (2) front yards and the same regulations and restrictions on fences in the front yard apply to the yard areas adjacent to both streets. Fences and walls are not allowed to be located in the street right-of-way. Although only a professional survey can determine the actual right-of-way boundary line, in most cases it is the area approximately 11 feet from the back of the curb toward the lot.
Fences and walls constructed after 27 April 1999 are not allowed in a drainage easement unless written permission from the county is given. For further information about fences and walls in drainage easements, please contact the Stormwater Plan Review Section of the Department of Planning & Development at 919.560.4137 between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday, except holidays. Drainage easements are indicated on Final Plats of subdivisions that are kept on file in the Real Estate Records Office of the Clerk of Superior Court.
Fences may be placed adjacent to or on side or rear property lines. However, it is recommended that adequate room be provided between the fence and the property line for maintenance purposes without having to access someone else’s property without their permission. Barbed wire and electric fences are prohibited on residential lots less than 3 acres in size. All damaged or missing portions of a fence need to be replaced with comparable materials and shall be attached to the existing portion of the fence. Fences cannot be externally braced by a means of support other than the intended posts or other structural members. Building permits are required for fences greater than 8 feet in height (and provided a height variance is granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals at a public hearing) and for walls that are greater than 4 feet in height.
Violations of fence and wall regulations may be reported by calling the Police Services Quality of Life Unit Complaint Hot Line at 919.560.4322
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Where can I install a fence on my residential property? How tall can I build the fence? Is a permit required?
A. Each lot has a front, side and rear setback from the property line. Review the final plat of the subdivision to find the locations of these setbacks on the property. Although fences in the rear and side yards may be built up to the property line, it is highly recommended to offset the fence internally from the property line to allow room for maintenance to avoid crossing over to the adjacent property. Fences are allowed to be up to eight (8) feet in height in the side and rear setbacks. Each corner lot has two front yard setbacks, one from each right of way. Fences in the front yard setback are not allowed to exceed four (4) feet in height. A building permit is not required to install a fence 8 feet or less in height except a building permit is required for masonry and concrete walls which exceed 4 feet in height and function as a fence, screen, or barrier.
Q. Am I allowed to install a fence within a drainage easement on my property?
A. Possibly, although obstructions of any type including permanent structures are generally not permitted within drainage easements. Installation of fencing within a drainage easement requires approval by the Stormwater Plan Review Section.
Q. Is the homeowner required to be present at his/her residence during a scheduled inspection by a building inspector?
A. Either the homeowner or an adult representative must be present before an inspector can enter an occupied residence or fenced property. For inspection of an outside structure such as a deck, pool, or storage shed, the homeowner may place a note on the permit card granting the inspector permission to enter the property if he/she cannot be present during the inspection.
Fence Workshop™ supplies the following fence styles in Durham County, NC.
- Wood Privacy, Picket , Split Rail & Board
- Vinyl Privacy, Picket, Post & Rail
- Ornamental Metal, Steel, Aluminum & Wrought Iron
- Chain Link, Galvanized, Black Vinyl Coated, Temporary Panels
- Driveway Gates, Gate Openers, Access Control Systems, Entry Gates, Entry Systems
- Residential Fences, Commercial Fences, Security Fences, Dog Fences, Horse Fences
- Fence Installation, Fence Repair, Fence Rental, Contractors, Companies, Installers, Builders
(Fence Workshop™ is not responsible for the accuracy of this information. Visit Durhamcountync.gov and Municode.com for the most up-to-date information on Durham County fence building codes and permit requirements.)
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