Do I need a building permit to install a fence?
Building permits are required for fence installation in unincorporated St. Joseph County. All fences must meet the location and height development standards in the zoning ordinance. The standards can be found in starting in the lower part of page 3 in this Zoning Ordinance chapter.
Where can fences be located/what is the setback?
Fences can be placed right at the property line. In other words, there is no setback for fences. Please note that the front property line is usually never at pavement, but rather at the edge of the County owned right-of-way which extends beyond the street surface (see "How can I determine where my property lines are located?" below).
What is the maximum height for a fence?
The maximum height of a fence depends on the type of fence and its location on the lot. There are additional regulations for corner lots.
For fences where greater than 70% of the fence is open, such as a chain-link fence, the maximum permitted height is 8’- however, if the fence is placed along the front property line or along the side property line within the front building setback (typically 35’ from the front property line for residential lots), the fence shall not exceed 4’ in height.
For fences where less than or equal to 70% of the fence is open, such as solid privacy fences, the maximum permitted height is 6’-however, if the fence is placed along the front property line or along the side property line within the front setback (typically 35’ from the front property line for residential lots), the fence shall not exceed 3’ in height.
Corner Lots. On a corner lot containing greater than 9,000 square feet, both property lines along the street are considered front property lines when it comes to determining maximum fence height. For corner lots less than or equal to 9,000 square feet, one front property line, as determined by the Zoning Administrator, may be considered a side property line and therefore allow for a taller fence. For all corners lots, fences along the two property lines abutting the streets cannot exceed 3’ when they come within 10’ of the right-of-way of the perpendicular street. This area is known as the clear sight triangle, and nothing taller than 3’ may be erect there to protect driver visibility at intersections.
Does it matter which way a fence panel faces (i.e. can the posts/"ugly side" face outward)?
There are no development standards in St. Joseph County regulating which way a fence panel faces.
How can I determine where my property lines are located?
The only way to determine the precise location of a property line is to hire a land surveyor.
Aerials provided by Planning & Zoning staff or online GIS sources can only provide the approximate location of property lines, and may be several feet off.
Can I place a fence in an easement? How do I know if there is an easement on my property?
Easements, such as those reserved for drainage or utilities, are to remain free of structures, including fences. To determine if there is an easement on your lot, first contact the Division of Planning and Zoning. If the parcel was part of a subdivision recorded after 1964, Planning staff will be able to provide you with a subdivision plat which includes all easements in existence at the time of recording. If the parcel was not part of a subdivision, or was part of an earlier subdivision, staff will advise you to contact the County Recorder’s Office to determine whether any easements are present.