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Appearance, Maintenance, and Fence Restrictions

One of the great things about owning a home is the ability to landscape, paint, and adorn it in your own style. However, you may be subject to local laws and home owners' association (HOA) rules with respect to appearance, maintenance, and fence restrictions. For example, many HOAs have rules on which colors you may paint your home. Local ordinances, meanwhile, may require you to maintain a clear sidewalk path in front of your home. It's important to always make sure you know what these restrictions and regulations are before purchasing a home or making renovations to your existing residence.

This article provides a general overview of the types of appearance, maintenance, and fence restrictions a home owner may encounter. See Home Owners' Associations and Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions for additional articles and resources.

Appearance and Maintenance

Probably the single most controlling covenant found in those adopted by homeowners' associations is that which addresses the appearance and maintenance of private properties. It is important to note that, even in the absence of CC&Rs, many of these same issues are regulated by local zoning or blight ordinances. However, because covenants are voluntary in nature (a purchaser agrees to abide by the covenants as a condition of purchasing the property), they can impose more strict obligations upon homeowners than those required under zoning ordinances.

For instance, some HOAs levy fines against residents who leave their garbage cans on the curb for too long or fail to keep their garage door shut. Others prohibit things like vegetable gardens and clothes lines. You may also be required to regularly trim grass and other plant life, conserve water, and maintain a clean front yard. In this regard, both HOAs and local ordinances can regulate the aesthetics of your home and its surrounding environment.


Fence heights are generally controlled by local ordinance but may also be a subject covered in neighborhood covenants. Commonly, they restrict fence heights to six feet in back yards, and three to four feet in front yards. Height restrictions can vary across HOAs and different localities, but generally aim to promote uniformity, safety, and beauty for the neighborhood.

Natural fences are more burdensome. Bushes or trees used as natural borders or fences (or deemed to constitute same) become overgrown and tend to encroach on neighbors' properties. In addition to the encroachment (which may constitute a trespass), overgrown natural fences also tend to obstruct views, thereby possibly violating another covenant. Your local fire department may also enforce fire safety ordinances that require the removal or trimming of this form of natural growth.

In addition to implementing appearance, maintenance, and fence regulations, HOAs and local ordinances may also restrict conduct that may endanger the neighborhood or cause a devaluation in local property prices. For example, rules against high noise levels or loitering may require residents to exercise greater restraint during late hours. Laws designed to prohibit illegal activity, such as drug use, may require residents to curb commercial activity on residential premises.

If you are in the market for a new property or you are experiencing an ordinance or HOA-related disputed in your current residence, consider talking to a real estate attorney regarding your local laws and your HOA's Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions.

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