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“Are these privacy screens considered fences?”

“Dear PoPville,

We are looking at purchasing a house in Brentwood that is a corner lot – the long side is RIGHT alongside Rhode Island Avenue. There is the usual 3 ft high chain link fence next to the sidewalk, and the current owners put up a 7′ fence the requisite distance back from the sidewalk to block the noise. We’re not a fan of this look and we’d prefer to be able to use the entirety of the yard – that’s why we’d love to buy an end unit! We are not usually fence people; we love being able to chat with our neighbors from the front porch and we generally think tall fences take away a lot of neighborhood charm.

However, the specifics of this property are begging for some sort of structure to block the noise, traffic, and shortcuts through the side yard. Rhode Island Avenue isn’t exactly a “charming” road, and this particular stretch is mostly lined with commercial property. This house is on one of the small offshoots of RIA, and this part of the property isn’t visible from any other houses on the street. I know we probably won’t be able to put in a fence taller than 3.5 feet, but I’ve seen some folks in my neighborhood who’ve put in these neat-looking privacy screens (internet stock photo attached) and draped them with climbing plants. It ends up looking really nice, neighbors on end units have some privacy, but we can all still talk and be neighborly. We’d keep the short fence where it is (right next to the sidewalk), eliminate the tall fence that just looks strange and cuts the yard in two, and strategically place a few of these screens closer to the short fence on the long side.

Does anyone have any first-hand knowledge about whether these screens are considered fences, and whether permits would be required? I *think* they’re generally considered free-standing structures, but I’m unclear, and I can’t find anything online. I’d ask our neighbors who’ve done this, but social distancing means I haven’t seen them outside for a while…

Again, this is NOT to block out our (potentially) new neighbors! We know we’d be buying a house on a noisy, busy street, and we’re aware of what comes with that. We are just exploring options that would provide the type of privacy/lack of people walking through our yard we’d get in the back yard/patio/alley of a middle unit. Thanks!”

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