From the Forum – Regulations (Besides 3′-3’6″ Fencing) for DC Front Yards?

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Regulations (Besides 3′-3’6″ Fencing) for DC Front Yards?

“My partner and I are considering buying a home and one of the items on a must-have list is semi-peaceful outdoor space. We’re currently looking at a row house in Columbia Heights with a very small backyard area (mostly consumed by a massive AC unit), but a sizable front lawn space.

Does anyone know what kinds of zoning rules or neighborhood regulations we might come up against if we decided to put in a few paving stones for a patio? What about arbors and tallish shrubs/hedges? I’ve seen several attractive front yard spaces in Columbia Heights, but we’d like to comply to code and add at least an illusion of privacy to an outdoor space we’d be using often.”

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12 Comment

  • Arbors count towards the 60% lot coverage maximum. Given the dimensions & layout of the property you described, it sounds like you may not have enough spare lot coverage to build one. If you change surfaces from pervious to imprevious you may face additional charges on your water bill.
    Honestly, it sounds like you might want to look for a property with a more sizeable backyard.

    • This is a good point — given that you haven’t actually bought a place yet, maybe it’s better to keep looking for a place with a bigger backyard.

  • The front yard often falls under DDOT regulations. In order to legally install a patio you may have to get their approval too.

    Although sometime nearby to me put up a 6 foot fence and paved over their front yard without any permits. I called several times to DCRA and DDOT and they haven’t had to do anything in 3 years. So from that experience, do whatever the hell you want. Apparently it doesn’t make a difference.

    • Ya, in the case of a property in Columbia Heights 723- 725 Morton St NW, the owner/contractor illegally cut a curb, made a driveway into the front portion of his property, and erected his own no parking sign! All the time DDOT has not responded for over a year or done a thing while he now eliminated a public parking spot by right of squatting.

      I’d say do as you please, DDOT will not enforce.

      • So it sounds like it is legal to park right in front of that driveway. Right? not that I’d do it with my own car, but maybe a car-to-go.

  • So much of this depends on where the property line is and where DDOT/DCRA regulations kick in.

  • The problem with “tallish shrubs/hedges” is that the same foliage that would make your front yard private for you would also give privacy to anyone trying to break into your house via the front (or trying to do other mischief in your front yard.) This was something that came up in the crime prevention/neighborhood watch training I attended a few months ago at the Fourth District headquarters.

  • Commenter ERD mentioned that front yards fall under DDOT regulations: understand that this is because, on almost all DC streets, the actual property line coincides with the front wall of the house and the front yard–the space between the front wall of the building and the sidewalk–is actually owned by DC. To see actual property lines, go to the DC Atlas All-In-One at and under “Layers”, go to “Property and Land” and add “Owner Lines (Dimensions)”. (“Record Lots” is sometimes inaccurate in cases where lots were split or combined for sale.)

    Also see this old thread:

    • I think it’s a stretch to say “almost all” DC streets are like this. In the L’Enfant City, yes, but there are many parts of the city where residents own at least a portion of the front yard.

    • If I had to guess, that probably is the case with a lot of the Old City. That site is showing that everyone owns their front yard in my neighborhood.

  • The answer to all your public space questions. With pictures! The DDOT Public Realm Design Manual:

    Really, it’s an excellent comprehensive document.

  • Call the DC Home Owner’s Center at DCRA. Mr Bhogal is very helpful in answering questions about what you can do on your property and what you need permits for. If you are in a Historic District also call the DC Historic Preservation Office. But as a few people mentioned – most likely all of the property from the face of your house to the sidewalk is actually public property, so you will need public space permits to do any work.

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