Dear PoP – Are There Restrictions To Building on Front Lawn?


“Dear PoP,

I currently have a house that has no backyard but has ample front yard space for gardening. I was wondering if there are any restrictions on putting a small, tasteful storage shed in a discreet location on the lawn where I can store gardening supplies and perhaps a small grill. I’ve been trying to find DC’s restrictions on what you can and can’t put on/do with your front lawn, but haven’t found anything yet. Do you have any information on this or can you point me in the right direction? The property is not in a historic district.”

You can find info from DCRA here. But for the readers, has anyone done a project like this? Did you get a permit?

11 Comment

  • Thanks for posting this question. I am also curious to know about DC restrictions for lawn fencing, etc.


    This has some neat information about front yards in historic Capitol Hill, which may be of interest.

  • is it going to piss your neighbors off? if not, the requirements for permitting etc are reduced substantially…

  • Mayor Fenty Built a guardhouse adjacent to his home which violated the building code. It still sits there today. Ergo, do whatever you want.

    “In DC everything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught”

    Apologies to the Traveling Wilburys

  • Depending on where you live in Petworth, your front lawn may not be yours.

    Look at your plat. The plat for many Petworth homes will show that your property ends at the edge of your front porch. The rest of what you think is your yard is actually “public space.” You can put a fence on it, but you have to get a special public space permit to do it. See

    There are a number of rules about fencing front yards. There are height restrictions, and generally, they can’t be solid (that is, you have to have a certain percentage of open space). See

  • Don’t forget the thing about DC homeowners not actually owning their front yards. If you can’t park your car in your front yard, I don’t see why you’d be able to build an outbuilding there. Perhaps you can extend your house to the setback line, but you house is probably already built to the limit.


    “‘Any area between the property line and the building restriction line shall be considered as private property set aside and treated as public space under the care and maintenance of the property owner.’

    “Basically what that means is most property owners in the District don’t own the land between their front door and the sidewalk, but they are responsible for taking care of it. It’s why you can get a ticket for drinking beer on your front porch in the Nation’s Capital. You’re technically on public space. It’s also why the city can ticket you for parking in your own driveway if you don’t pull your car deep enough into the driveway beyond the façade of your house or building.”

  • So I suppose if you have a corner lot then you are prevented from having privacy in your back yard unless you give up the half of it that is technically public space?

  • BTW….what a beautiful garden shed in the photo!!

  • Look at redfin for an idea on where your property line is. Your appraisal may also have a plat diagram showing your property layout.
    In the old city, the front of your house is probably your border, enjoy getting the public space permit (pray you don’t have an a$$hole neighbor). Further out depends on when it was built.

  • I think you can certainly put a small storage thing in the front yard. You don’t need to make it earthquake-proof; make sure it’s not quite as permanent as the one in this picture and you’ll be ok

  • I know the Zoning Department is super responsive and has lots of resources, and I think they know what’s what when it comes to front yards.

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