How Close To The Property Line Can I Build A House?

How Close To The Property Line Can I Build A House?

Understanding Property Setbacks

The term “setback” usually refers to the distance a house or structure must be from a property line. For example, a local jurisdiction may require a house to be no closer than 20 feet from the front property line, five feet from the property lines on each side of the house, and ten feet from the rear property line.

Or, the term can relate to the distance a house or structure must be from a road, wetland, or other area that is considered to need protection from nearby development. Setbacks are most often enforced either by a local municipality or, if there are private covenants (also known as CC&Rs) that apply, a homeowners’ association might be charged with enforcing the setback.

In residential areas, one reason setbacks are enforced is to influence the character of a neighborhood. For instance, in an urban area, where population density is high, residential and commercial uses are mixed, and many people walk as a means of transportation, setbacks will often be small to encourage dense development. On the other hand, in a suburban area, where the only use is residential and privacy is more important, the setbacks will often be larger to encourage disbursed development.


What Are The Functions Of Setbacks?

Setbacks have several purposes to a property that include;

Creating A Safe Space Between Properties

Different properties have varying purposes and thus require a safe space. A setback protects various land uses by separating one property from another. It helps to prevent houses from being built too close to each other. 

Secure The Usage Of Lands

If different land usages are not compatible, there must be adequate setback regulations put in place. The purpose of these requirements is to secure the usage of each piece of land. For example, a land in which hazardous materials are produced and stored should not be close to residential quarters. 

To Decongest Streets

Setbacks help to widen streets, thus dealing with the issue of congestion in densely populated towns. They help to make roads and streets wide to accommodate the high population. 

Helps In Lighting And Ventilation

Setback requirements regulate the space between buildings hence enhancing lighting and ventilation. These regulations ensure that there is no obstruction between buildings and improves one’s access to their property. 

Who Determines Setbacks?

Zoning authorities are responsible for determining setback requirements. The local government creates building codes that specify the setbacks through zoning regulations. Zoning rules separate several land uses by dividing them into residential, industrial, and commercial areas. 

The authorities also specify the restrictions in different zones, including the types of structures in a particular zone. It includes the use of land both in the present and future. 

Related Property Line, Fence, and Tree Resources

What Rules Apply To The Property Line?

The rules applicable to the property line usually vary from one zone to another. The rule also depends on the public facility or property that the rule seeks to secure. The setback required to secure a road might not necessarily be the same in case of a highway, a river, railway line, septic tank, etc. It is essential to understand what is obtainable in your local area when you are buying a property, so as not to violate existing property line rules.

The rules that exist could restrict building in setbacks. It will also require you to obtain permits for structures that exceed certain limits. There are also specified limits for fences and other structures. Thus, you must understand the zoning code applicable in your area.

Setback rules change from time to time. Thus, what might be the setback requirement at a particular time is bound to change as time goes on. However, you should note that these setback rules usually apply to new buildings that are about to be set up and does not affect existing buildings and structures. However, the setback requirement might apply where you intend to reconfigure the building and add extensions to it.

Problems With Imposing Setbacks   

You can blame setbacks for reducing the size of the space available for the use of landowners. It is said to have an economic impact on society. It is because lands that should be useful for several purposes amounts to a waste. With setbacks, an owner of property uses up more land than is needed.

Another problem with setbacks is that it places a limit or restriction of the landowner concerning how much of his land he can use. Thus, it amounts to a limitation on one’s property rights.

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.

Tree Trimming Laws

It’s not uncommon for branches from a tree to reach over a property line and overhang a neighbor’s land. Florida has laws governing these encroaching branches. Your legal right to trim branches hanging over your property line will depend on the health of the tree. If the tree is healthy, you may, at your own expense, trim back branches up to the property line. Your neighbor won’t necessarily be liable for healthy branches falling on your land. On the other hand, if the branches are dead, it’s your neighbor’s responsibility to maintain them, or possibly be liable for damage caused to your land by falling branches.

Finding Out More About the House’s Setback Requirements and Any Variance

A local planning or building department should be able to help you research whether the house might be grandfathered in as built. However, you shouldn’t rely solely on representations made by the municipality or its employees. Instead, you’ll want to verify independently, either by hiring a land use attorney or doing your own research, that the setback violation is grandfathered.

Another possibility is that the person who built the house obtained a “variance” from the local municipality or homeowners’ association. A “variance” allows development that doesn’t comply strictly with the relevant zoning ordinance or building code. For example, if a person wants to build a new house, but due to the topography of the property, can only do so if he or she partially constructs the house inside the applicable setback, the local municipality may grant a variance to the setback requirement to allow the house to be built.

If such a variance was, in fact, approved by your local municipality, a copy of it should be in the public record and obtainable through the planning or building department. If the house is part of a subdivision with a homeowners’ association (HOA), you might also see if the HOA has records of any permission granted to allow the setbacks to be violated.

Given the expense associated with fixing a setback violation, it is important that you verify that the setback is either grandfathered in or otherwise permitted.


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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