Dear PoP – Is This Legal?

“Dear PoP,

The house next door to us recently built a deck off their dining room that comes right up to our property line and is a few feet higher than our 6 foot privacy fence (see attached photo). So, my question is, does this deck violate building code? And if so, how should I handle this with the neighbors? Finally, the house is now for sale (investors bought it a few months ago and did a major renovation, including the deck) so there is rarely anyone there to talk to, even if I wanted to.”

Anyone know if this violates code? And since it’s already been built – how would you deal with the neighbors? Especially if the neighbors are investors and not living there?

48 Comment

  • Assuming they don’t violate the maximum lot occupancy zoning requirement, I don’t see how this could possibly violate code…

    Also, the deck is required, under the zoning laws, to come right up to the property line in order to avoid the restrictions on “open courts.” Otherwise, it would need to be 6 feet back from the line. (resulting in an extremely narrow deck on most lots).

    • Correct that the zoning regulations are ridiculous when it comes to side setbacks. It’s not just for decks, but for buildings too. The rules state that you can build up to the property line, or set back a significant distance, but smaller distances are not allowed.

      This is one of the items that will be fixed in the comprehensive zoning review underway right now by the Office of Planning.

    • Also, there is a way to check permits online through DCRA, although I can’t find the website at the moment. You should check to see if they had a permit.

      • Why fight your neighbor when they’re trying to sell? You’re only hurting your own property values.

        Besides, I’ve think this is 100% completely legal. If decks require a roughly 3.5 foot rail, and the maximum fence height is supposedly 6 feet, that means that all decks have to be not much more than 2 feet off the ground.

        Now, think back my friends. Has anyone seen a 2 foot deck in DC? I’ve seen dozens and dozens — some are off the second level, some 5 – 6 feet. All sizes, but I’ve never seen a 2 foot high deck. Would seem to defeat the whole point anyway.

  • think this is against code. I know in DC you can’t build a fence over 6 ft maybe there is a different rule for decks?

  • why in the world would this be illegal?

  • wait, why are you so against this?

  • If they aren’t over lot coverage, and properly permitted, this is fully acceptable. Some folks even have second story doors and decks. There isn’t a six foot limit for stairs/decks etc. That would be kind of absurd, don’t you think? Also, fence height can be higher with the proper use of the permitting process.

  • No more private nude sunbathing in the back yard!

  • it’s not like they couldn’t already see you from the windows of their house. my old neighbor had a deck above my fence just like this. never gave a rat’s ass. stop being a shitty neighbor.

  • If a permit was not applied for and issued, I believe there is a fine and even an order to raze the deck. A neighbor recently put up a fence without a permit and the city required them to demolish it…which they did not do.

    A deck is a serious structure that must be inspected properly.

    • razing is only required if it isn’t built to code, or can’t be brought to code.

      Razing isn’t a penalty in-and-of itself.

      • Right. I was assuming it wasn’t up to code as that has been my experience with construction that has not gone down the proper permitting route.

  • You missed the train on this one. I have done my fair share of no permit projects. You needed to called DCRA while the construction was being preformed. Now the owner can say it was preexisting and DCRA can’t do a thing about it. If you had called during the construction they could have posted a “Stop Work”.

    PS: Worry about your own house its only increasing your property value at the end of the day dingbat.

    • Great answer – except for the asinine name calling.

    • And wrong answer. Work without a permit can get a Notice to Abate or Notice of Violation even after work is completed. Inspector just needs to point to evidence that the deck was recently built (sawdust, left over building materials left on site, etc.) or have a neighbor willing to testify to that fact. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to know when a deck is less than a year old.

  • part of living in a house on a row is forced intimacy with your neighbors.

  • We have a deck just like this that the railing height is above the neighbors fences…and we have a second story deck above it…

    I think it is most likely completely legal.

  • Ask the owner to add a lattice, or some other privacy-enhancing feature the the portion of the deck rail that is closest to your house. the house three or four down from you in the picture did it. It can be nice looking if well done. Cheap, and more private for both parties. I’d say do it your self if they decline, and trust that they aren’t in a position to pull the “6 foot limit” on you.

  • When we got a permit to fence our backyard we were allowed up to 8′ without a special exemption (we went 7′). I agree that the code probably does not allow the deck to abutt the property line. If you find that to be the case, send the current owner and realtor a letter stating that. If they are in violation of city code they will need to disclose this and/or fix it before selling the property or risk getting sued.

    • See the above comment on “open courts”. Nearly always the desk HAS TO abut the property line. There isn’t supposed to be open space, or space with only a very small access, between the house and the property line.

  • you have a metal door sitting in your backyard and you are worried about a new porch?

  • The photo looks like they are taking a picture from the owner’s own deck. Which means they can’t honestly be complaining about the height.
    If it’s along the lot line – why not call DCRA (I know not very efficient…) and see what the permit and codes say. You’ll get an accurate answer – more so than you can get from a blog – even if its great (like PoP).

  • Get a taller fence!

  • Plantcha a big ole crepe myrtle. It will provide flowers and privacy all summer long!

  • This deck will violate the DC Code if it was built without securing proper permits from DCRA. You should call an inspector. DCRA is very serious about illegal decks because they pose a safety hazard if they are not built correctly.

    Also, there may be zoning issues because you can only use a certain percentage of your backyard as a deck. I don’t know what that percentage is though. Sorry.

  • If no one lives there attach lattice to the fence, under cover of dark.

  • This is 3605 13th St NW. I have been watching it being renovated. Never saw any permits up. Don’t they have to be displayed in the windows? Also, heard this guy powerwashed the brick INSIDE.

    The deck is most definitely illegal. That house is already right at maximum lot occupancy.

  • maximum lot occupancy is a bullshit reg. DCRA wont let me replace a second floor deck that was destroyed years ago because I can’t prove a deck was ever there (even though there are scars and a second floor door)and my house already exceeds the maximum occupancy (which, incidentally is 65%) and so my house is considered a nonconforming structure, even though it is the exact footprint that was built at the turn of the century. So I am stuck with a door and no deck unless I build it illegally.

  • These threads are always fun to read. Lots of petty, amateur fascists in this town, for some reason.

    The milk in my cereal i’m eating right now isn’t quite as cold as i would like it. Which of my neighbors can i make PAY for this horrible injustice?

  • If the deck exceeds the lot coverage limit, then one must apply for a zoning variance. These are generally not hard to get, requiring mainly approval by the ANC.

    I really don’t understand the objections to the deck, especially given the presence of that rather oppressive fence. But that’s what the ANC is involved for — to find out if there are legitimate complaints about a structure that exceeds the zoning limits. The owner, and the neighbors, can argue their positions in public, and if the objections are legitimate, the ANC says “no” to the variance.

  • Precisely the kind of fuddy dud with no business being within slingshot range of this city or any other. I hope Santa brings you a gift certificate to Montgomery County and a discoteque…

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