Fences & Retaining Walls
It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure their project meets Homeowners Association and Restrictive or Protective Covenants requirements, as these regulations can be stricter than city ordinances. It is also the homeowner’s responsibility to be sure their fence or wall is not being constructed on neighboring properties. If you are unsure where the property lines or property pins are located, an outside survey company can be hired to conduct a formal survey of your property. If your property is zoned as an Agriculture district, certain restrictions and exemptions may apply. Contact the Building Department at 515-309-9461 for more information about fence and retaining wall ordinances.
A building permit is required for all residential and commercial fence installations. Fences must conform to setback, easement, and height requirements. Permit fees are $20. If the fence has electrically operated components, such as a self-opening gate or lighting, a separate electrical permit is required. Permits for fence repairs are required when one or both of the following are needed:
- 40% or more of the fence is removed or replaced.
- Location and/or height of the existing fence is changed.
- A permit is required for all retaining walls
- Only type of wall allowed in a front yard
- Need to be set back 1ft. from the property line for every 1ft. in height
- Retaining walls 6ft. and higher:
- Required to be structurally engineered
- Wall faces cannot be over 6ft without a terrace to break up the wall expanse
- Terraces are to be at least 1ft. wide for each 2ft. of wall height
- Terraces must contain vegetation
- Design specification, elevations, and a site plan must be included with the building permit application
Restrictions - Front Yard vs Back Yard
City ordinance regulates the placement and sizing of fences based on the different yard categories; front, side, and rear. These different categories are defined by street location(s) and house orientation. Differentiating the front, side, and rear yard boundaries for a typical non-corner lot is fairly straight forward. Corner lots have streets bordering more than one side of the lot, giving the lot multiple front yards (frontages). Front yard regulations apply to each street side of the corner lot.
Corner lots have streets bordering more than one side of the lot, giving the lot multiple front yards or frontages. Front yard regulations apply to each street side of the corner lot.
Vision Triangle –When a piece of property borders roads on two adjoining sides, as a corner lot does, the area on the corner of the lot where the two right-of ways meet is designated as a vision triangle. The vision triangle measures 25’ from the point where the two right-of-ways meet. Nothing can block vision in the area 2½ - 10ft. above street level.
All pools are required to be completely surrounded by a fence when the pool is 18 inches or deeper and the water left in the pool over 24 hrs. Homeowner’s Insurance may have additional and/or stricter requirements regarding pool fencing.
Pool fencing must be built to the following standards:
- Not less than 54 inches in height
- At least 4ft from each side of the pool
- Distance between posts of 10ft or less
- Non-climbable and designed to be inaccessible to small children
- Self-closing and self-latching gates and/or doors with a locking mechanism to keep access secure when the pool is not in use.
If the back yard where the pool is located has an existing perimeter fence which meets all the requirements listed above, an additional fence around the pool is optional.
Easements and Utility Boxes
Residential fences may be constructed on some easements, depending on the terms of the easement. The owner of the easement has the right to remove any obstructions (trees, plants, buildings, fences, etc.) in the easement that interfere with operation and maintenance of the easement. The homeowner could be responsible for restoring the items removed during maintenance. An example of easement maintenance is MidAmerican Energy repairing buried utility lines and green utility boxes. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain their property on either side of the fence; i.e., mowing, weeding, tree trimming, etc.
Overland Flowage Easements: Fences constructed in overland flowage easements have specific requirements for the portion of the fence in the easement. These portions must have at least 30% open space and be elevated a minimum of 3” in the swale portion of the easement.
Fences can be built using typical fencing materials such as chain link, wrought iron, aluminum, wood, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and other similar materials. Treated lumber, cedar, redwood, or similar types of decay resistant wood should be used for wood fences.
A fence or wall may not be designed to cause pain or injury to humans or animals. Corrugated or sheet metal, chicken wire, woven wire, temporary construction fencing, snow fencing, or similar materials are not allowed for permanent fencing. Chain link fences in front yard need a non-galvanized finish.
Construction, Maintenance & Repair
It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure their project meets HOA requirements, as these regulations can be stricter than city ordinances. It is also the homeowner’s responsibility to be sure their fence or wall is not being constructed on neighboring properties. Corner lots have streets bordering more than one side of the lot, giving the lot multiple front yards (frontages). Front yard regulations apply to each street side of the corner lot.
Fences are to be constructed “pretty side out”, meaning posts, rails, and supports are placed on the inside of the fence. Fences need to be constructed in a sturdy manner and kept in a good state of repair, including the replacement of defective parts, painting, and other maintenance tasks. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to maintain their property on either side of the fence; i.e., mowing, weeding, tree trimming, etc.
Existing fences are required to be brought up to current regulations when one or both of the following are needed:
- 40% or more of the fence is removed or replaced. This is referred to as “complete replacement”.
- Location and/or height of the existing fence is changed.
Industrial and Commercial Fences
In industrial districts; fences and walls in the rear and side yards cannot exceed 8 feet in height. Fences within a commercial district; front yard of an industrial district; or over 8 feet tall in industrial districts, may be permitted a special exception by the Board of Adjustment.