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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Homeowners’ Association Fence Rules: Considerations When Installing a New Fence

Recently, a client approached me, seeking help with a rather challenging situation. She had recently installed a beautiful new wooden fence around her home. Within 24 hours, she was  confronted by the HOA president, who (very loudly) admonished her for obstructing her neighbors' lake views. Much to her dismay, her fence would become the topic of much gossip and discussion at the bi-monthly HOA meeting. She was ultimately given 14 days to replace or remove the fence or face fines that would accrue daily.

Who would have guessed that a fence could cause such drama and stress? Well, this is actually surprisingly common. I regularly encounter frustrated property owners who’ve been tasked with modifying a recently-installed fence--all because they didn't consult their homeowner's association (HOA) prior to putting it up.

Understandably, my client was quite upset as she'd spent a significant amount of time and money to install what she believed to be the perfect fence. As someone who had never lived in a gated community, she was unaware of the need to seek HOA approval. She was also utterly unprepared for the dramatics that would ensue! Ultimately, my team was able to provide her with the supplies and hardware that she needed to erect a new fence that would fall within the association's guidelines. If you live in a neighborhood with an HOA, it pays to consider a few of the common restrictions they have on fencing, and to understand why those restrictions exist.

Common HOA Guidelines on Fencing and the Reasoning Behind Them

 At first blush, homeowner's association guidelines concerning fencing may seem a bit nitpicky. But the goal of an HOA is to maintain neighborhood standards that improve quality of life and ultimately, property values. The reality is that a fence can have a significant impact on your neighbors since it’s within their line of sight. And a poorly-placed fence or the wrong style of fence can obstruct views--a major problem, particularly if views are one of the main community draws.

So what kinds of restrictions or guidelines can you expect to confront when installing a new fence? Consider the following:

  • Wind- and storm-resistance: In many storm-prone areas of the country, such as Florida, high winds can transform fencing components into dangerous projectiles. These projectiles can cause serious injury and major damage to nearby structures and vehicles. This is especially true of solid fences and fencing with wide slats. When wine can’t easily pass through a fence, the entire structure turns into a large and very dangerous sail.

For this reason, many HOAs prohibit the installation of wooden fences and other more substantial fencing styles that tend to “catch” the wind. Associations may only allow for fences with narrow metal bars, cables or other styles that offer little wind resistance. It’s also not uncommon to see requirements for the depth of the fence posts and the construction/style of hardware so as to maximize durability.

  • Fence height restrictions: Fence height is a frequent point of regulation, with rules often varying between the height restrictions for the front yard and the back. HOA restrictions on fence height are often rooted in aesthetics and visibility issues, but there are some exceptions. For example, fences can obstruct a driver’s view at an intersection, making it impossible to see if there’s another vehicle, a pedestrian, or an unleashed dog about to pop out from around the corner. (And similarly, a pedestrian or cyclist may not see a vehicle due to a solid fence). So some regulations are intended to promote greater neighborhood safety. When this is the case, you may see restrictions on solid structures (like a solid wooden or aluminum fence), whereas a tall metal picket fence may be deemed permissible.
  • Views and visibility: It is not uncommon for gated communities and other HOA-governed neighborhoods to pop up in scenic locations. Many communities also invest heavily in landscaping, which can include the creation of man-made lakes and ponds. In these environments, it’s understandable that people might be unhappy if a fence interferes with or obstructs the view of the landscape. For this reason, you may find that you are either prohibited from putting up a fence or you may face restrictions concerning fence height, style, type and location. High, privacy-style fences may be banned entirely in favor of shorter fences with narrow metal or wood pickets, or other styles that do not obstruct visibility.
  • Style and uniformity: While many HOA requirements are rooted in the practical, it’s not uncommon to encounter rules and regulations that are created based on appearances. Some communities require properties to fall in line with a certain aesthetic style (e.g. modern and minimalist or ornate and elegant Victorian style.) Others offer very specific directives, such as “only wrought iron fencing or substitute materials that have the appearance of wrought iron.” Each community is unique, so it’s essential that you understand your neighborhood’s guidelines so you can avoid a situation where you’re forced to alter or replace a brand-new fence.

Why Pay Attention to HOAs, and How to Choose an HOA-friendly Fence

HOAs and other similar associations have the ability to impose serious fines and penalties on the homeowner. If you were to ignore a fine, you could find yourself in a sticky situation whereby the HOA secures a lien against your property. A lien can seriously complicate matters if you wish to sell your home in the future. Ultimately, when fees, interest, and penalties are factored in, the total cost to the property owner can be many times the original fine amount. And that says nothing of the stress and inconvenience that it causes.

The right choice in fence and hardware style will vary dramatically depending upon your HOA’s requirements and your own needs--namely, your reasons for installing the fence. Reasons can range from a desire for more privacy, to security, aesthetics or the safety of your children and pets. The fence you choose will depend on your HOA’s requirements, but as a contractor, I’ve found Fortress® fencing products to work in many situations.

Fortress’ Versai™ ornamental fencing is a great pick for HOAs, particularly those that favor a wrought iron-like look and fences that create minimal view obstructions. This fence is also ideal for locations that are prone to strong winds and storms, which could bring down a solid fence structure. You can also choose from a number of different gate styles, including walk gates, drive gates and custom models. This particular style of fencing—available with top railing or in a picket fence style—is unique because of its layers of high-quality coating. The galvanized steel is coated with zinc before getting a special e-coat which protects the metal from corrosion due to moisture. Finally, a premium powder coating is used which includes UV inhibitors to protect the metal from sun and to promote a long lifespan and minimal maintenance requirements. This benefits you (no scrubbing at rust or repainting), but it also means you’ll be far less likely to come under fire from the HOA as the fence ages.

Fortress fencing also offers a unique solution that blends wrought iron-style fencing with privacy fencing. This is ideal for a regulation-rich HOA setting, as you can use a single fence to achieve a couple different looks. The Fortress Estate Fence features a clever wood infill for a unique look that can installed with or without the infill to create a privacy fence on one side of the property and an easy-to-see-through security fence on another side. For more unique and durable products, take a look at Fortress Building Products’ complete line of products including decking, railings, framing, cladding, lighting and decorative hardware. No matter how picky your HOA is, Fortress has a quality, stylish solution for you.



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