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City code violation for fence, living in the "hood"  RSS feed

 
Posts: 22
Location: West Palm Beach, FL
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So this is a long story and I may just be here to vent, but maybe you all can give me some positive advice or solutions.  I'll try to stick to the key details but there is a bit of back story...

I bought a house in West Palm Beach, Florida last November.  Nice property, with decent yard space for farming and food forestry, but unfortunately it's at the less desirable end of town.  Some areas are really rough looking just a couple streets over.  Crackheads, prostitutes, drug dealers, etc. walking by all the time.  Not to mention some VERY inconsiderate neighbors.  


We bought the place just after Hurricane Irma, which knocked down part of the wooden fence which separates my yard from the neighbor's.  He owned the fence, and told me since we first met that he would take care of it as soon as he could, or as soon as the prices dropped, etc.  It never happened, so we decided to buy the fencing and do it ourselves.  His tenant's dogs kept coming over to shit on our yard and we were tired of it.  So we rented a truck got the fencing, and left it in the backyard to put up later in the week.

Two days later I come home from work, to find that my neighbor came into my yard while no one was home.  There was a rope on the ground marking a future raised bed location.  He took this rope, and used it to mark off where HE wanted the property line to be, 3 feet closer toward my house!  It's a 105x75' plot, that would have been 315 sq ft of stolen land!  Not only that, but he actually had started to cut down a Surinam cherry tree in order to do this. A tree that was clearly on my property, a mature fruiting tree just under 20 feet tall.
Several limbs and every big root except the tap root were cut, and the tree was half dug out of the ground. I flipped out!  I can't believe any neighbor would ever even attempt anything like that.  He tried to do it during the day while I was at work, but it was obviously a multi-day project and there's no way he could have completed it before I ever got home and noticed.  It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever had to deal with.  What the hell was this guy thinking?

One other thing that happened (which a 6 foot wooden fence would have prevented) was a robbery, literally in my driveway.  The guy ran through my backyard and hopped the fence to get away.  Also neighbors' dogs running into our yard, annoying neighbors just letting themselves in, etc.  We needed to create privacy.

So now you understand why we RUSHED to put up not only that fence section, but to extend it all the way to the front face of the property and to the corner of the house.  Blocking out the neighbor completely from the back and side yard.  For that additional part of the fence, we were replacing chain link that had been there for probably 30 years.


My dad and I knocked it out and all was good.  The fence is beautiful, we finally feel unbothered and at peace while out in the yard.
For a few weeks that lasted.


Then one day a city code violation was posted on my front door.  Reason being "must obtain permit for fence".  Shit.
I went downtown the next morning to apply and pay the $95 fee.  Then a couple of weeks pass by while I wait for approval.

I call a few days ago and I am told that my permit was denied.  The code decrees that a fence may not be higher than 4 feet if within 25 feet of the property line facing the street.  Our fence is only 16 feet from the sidewalk, therefore not acceptable.
I go in to the zoning office and meet with the lady who denied it.  She regurgitates the code and that I will either have to remove the fence entirely, move it backward 9 feet into the yard, or cut 2 feet of height off the top of the fence.  
I could try to apply for a variance, but it is a 6 MONTH process and I am already under a violation that must be cured this month.  So I'm totally stuck. >


Yesterday afternoon we started taking a saw to the fence.  It honestly isn't the worst looking thing in the world at 4 feet high, but it almost completely defeats the purpose of keeping the general public OUT and protecting our property.  Our bedroom window now faces directly to my shitty neighbor's front porch again.
It was really sad having to do it, just thinking of the futility of the situation and how nonsensical the bureaucracy's demands are.  But what can we do?  It's either comply with the city's demands, or get a property lien and eventually lose my house and land at gunpoint.

I just wanted to see if anyone here has some advice, has gone through a similar situation, or has anything to say regarding city planners and their ridiculous codes?  Any success stories in fighting this kind of stuff?

The city knows this is a shitty area needing exactly these types of improvements to prevent crime, and yet they won't allow homeowners to do their own work to improve the community. Let alone for our personal safety.  It all has to come from "above", in the form of subsidized housing and eventual development of high rise condos on plots of land like mine.  How can we get them to understand the value of a home with a well protected yard?  I want my yard to have as much food production as possible, and for that value to eventually spill over to benefit/build the community, but I feel pretty vulnerable in the neighborhood that I'm in.  



 
Posts: 944
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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You could dig into the code [including the HOA code if you're under that tyranny] and see what it has to say about berms. In many locations that regulate this, you're still allowed to pile the soil an additional two feet above grade [which gets you 6 feet of visual disruption.]

 
pollinator
Posts: 457
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Kyrt has a good idea. Another one that lots of people employ out here is adding a lattice top or some kind of trellising. All this depends on the exact wording of the code, what is and isn't considered a fence etc. I utilize a lot of trellising on my current property, the side yards don't get enough light for edibles but potato vine(not actually related to potatoes), and hardenbergia make lovely privacy screens. Or passionflower vine, although it's somewhat invasive.
 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 944
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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One more idea is to grow a dense line of trees just inside your property line. Some locales treat a proper hedge as a fence, but bushy trees on... say... 6 foot spacing and not 'layed as a hedge' doesn't qualify as such, but if they're only three feet away from the fence then their canopies can easily become a massive obstacle to anyone trying to see through or climb over your four-foot fence[Of course this is dependent on your local tyranny not screwing you out of front yard trees either.]
 
pollinator
Posts: 2124
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I feel your pain.
I live in a similar situation, with the same kind of buracrazy.
In addition to a berm, consider a ditch.
It won't make it the barrier higher, but it will make crossing it more daunting.
A simple steel wire "cloths line" or two could hang up intruders, and provide support for vines, or a visual barrier, if you actually hung sheets on it.
Chris crossing lines could  really ruin someone's day.
Maybe contract with tree trimmers to bring wood chips.
Build up the grade that way.

I wonder what the law on punji sticks is?
What a pain, so much work to be left alone.


Check the codes for barbed,razor and electric fencing.
They are probably illegal in your cities  residential zones but who knows?
Moringa might be a good plant for growing a hedge/not hedge.
Raised beds or planters could give your plants a head start.

 
William Bronson
pollinator
Posts: 2124
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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As for dealing with the Man, I'm no help.
I'm in a third or fourth round of trying to fight/appease them.
I've lost more than won,and I have to fight old fights over and over again.

Good luck, fellow citizen.
 
pollinator
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It all depends on the exact wording, but can you get away with a trellis with plants growing on, or a hedge/line of trees/other plantings instead?
 
Posts: 307
Location: Amtkel – Abkhazia · 400m elevation · temperate climate
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- Your neighbour has to build up the fence, he has not done that yet. Make sure the city knows that.
- Demand compensation for the damages caused. He has caused damages on your property and is responsible for it.

If I was in that situation, I would sell the house and look for a better place. This does not sound like a place anyone would enjoy living.
 
Conner Murphy
Posts: 22
Location: West Palm Beach, FL
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Here are some pictures so you can see what I'm working with.  The first two pictures show the fence after we installed it, 6 feet high and plenty sufficient to block the view.  The big tree in front of it is a lychee!

The next two pics are basically the same angle after cutting two feet off the top. You can see where we stopped cutting at the 25' setback mark.

Then the last two pics are the view from standing on my neighbor's driveway, and the edge of his driveway where the land slopes down.  I am going to have to get some cement bed liners to raise the edge, and fill it with dirt so the grade meets the bottom of the fence.  It has to be no higher than 48" above the grade as measured from the outside.

The outside of the fence faces south.  The obstacles, if I am going to grow something tall or thick as an additional barrier, are two things:

-The space on either side of the fence only gets a partial amount of sun.  In summer, as you can tell in the photo, the inside edge of the fence gets morning sunlight.  In winter, the outside edge gets sunlight, but the lychee tree hangs low over the sidewalk so it casts shade.
-There are very thick lychee roots on both sides of the fence.  So it's hard to plant anything big in that area, and I don't want to impede the lychee.  We already cut through enough roots putting the fence up.  You can see the close proximity for yourself in the photos.

So I need to know what I can grow that isn't too woody, but will grow tall under a canopy, and provides a decent barrier.  So far we are thinking of more mysore raspberries (very sharp! already established by the corner of the fence, you can see them just reaching over in the shot from the corner), or possibly Tithonia diversifolia (perennial Mexican sunflower) if it can still grow tall in shade.
IMG_7434.jpg
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fence before
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fence before 2
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fence after
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fence after 2
IMG_7457.jpg
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view from corner
IMG_7455.jpg
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edge of neighbors driveway
 
Conner Murphy
Posts: 22
Location: West Palm Beach, FL
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Kyrt Ryder wrote:You could dig into the code [including the HOA code if you're under that tyranny] and see what it has to say about berms. In many locations that regulate this, you're still allowed to pile the soil an additional two feet above grade [which gets you 6 feet of visual disruption.]



I probably could have done that.  Would have to look through the code a little more.  The city inspectors will measure the fence from the outside edge of the grade, to the top of the fence.  So if I raised the grade two feet, I think technically I would be alright.  It's just not ideal with the spacing.  I would totally do this if it were a more open space.


Stacy Witscher wrote:Kyrt has a good idea. Another one that lots of people employ out here is adding a lattice top or some kind of trellising. All this depends on the exact wording of the code, what is and isn't considered a fence etc. I utilize a lot of trellising on my current property, the side yards don't get enough light for edibles but potato vine(not actually related to potatoes), and hardenbergia make lovely privacy screens. Or passionflower vine, although it's somewhat invasive.



I don't think they would be able to consider a trellis to be a fence, I read the code on fences several times but I'll still dissect it again to make sure.  My neighbor has a 10' archway right up against the sidewalk covered in bouganvillea vines.  However this might have been established before the codes were changed. The fence we replaced was actually 4'10" chain link that was grandfathered in before code change.  Wish we knew that before.

Kyrt Ryder wrote:One more idea is to grow a dense line of trees just inside your property line. Some locales treat a proper hedge as a fence, but bushy trees on... say... 6 foot spacing and not 'layed as a hedge' doesn't qualify as such, but if they're only three feet away from the fence then their canopies can easily become a massive obstacle to anyone trying to see through or climb over your four-foot fence[Of course this is dependent on your local tyranny not screwing you out of front yard trees either.]



Just not really possible for trees as you'll see in the pictures.  I am glad that the lychee is there because it is a significant view blocker already.  Also there is a substantial slope going up to the fence from the street.  If you are standing on the street, it still appears almost 6 feet high.  But it reaaally blocked the view well at it's full height

William Bronson wrote: I feel your pain.
I live in a similar situation, with the same kind of buracrazy.
In addition to a berm, consider a ditch.
It won't make it the barrier higher, but it will make crossing it more daunting.
A simple steel wire "cloths line" or two could hang up intruders, and provide support for vines, or a visual barrier, if you actually hung sheets on it.
Chris crossing lines could  really ruin someone's day.
Maybe contract with tree trimmers to bring wood chips.
Build up the grade that way.

I wonder what the law on punji sticks is?
What a pain, so much work to be left alone.


Check the codes for barbed,razor and electric fencing.
They are probably illegal in your cities  residential zones but who knows?
Moringa might be a good plant for growing a hedge/not hedge.
Raised beds or planters could give your plants a head start.



The clothes line idea I will have to look into.  They definitely do not allow barbed wire or razor wire!  maybe some kind of electric wire would be allowed but would it be worth it?
I am growing a lot of Moringa already so that's one thing I considered.  I'll probably plant a few there, although they get very leggy if not given full sun.

I am also looking into growing a hedge of Katuk.  It's an edible green, does well in the shade, easy to propagate, it just grows pretty slow the first year.  But they can get pretty tall after a while.

I don't think the code takes punji sticks into account.  Brutal but effective! Or I could use mysore raspberries for almost the same effect.  Or cacti.


William Bronson wrote: As for dealing with the Man, I'm no help.
I'm in a third or fourth round of trying to fight/appease them.
I've lost more than won,and I have to fight old fights over and over again.

Good luck, fellow citizen.



Thanks, I need it.  I felt like such a model citizen yesterday cutting down my own fence.  It's what they wanted.

Charli Wilson wrote:It all depends on the exact wording, but can you get away with a trellis with plants growing on, or a hedge/line of trees/other plantings instead?



I think so.  Just need to find the right plants for that microclimate.

Sebastian Köln wrote:- Your neighbour has to build up the fence, he has not done that yet. Make sure the city knows that.
- Demand compensation for the damages caused. He has caused damages on your property and is responsible for it.

If I was in that situation, I would sell the house and look for a better place. This does not sound like a place anyone would enjoy living.



I'm typically not one to pursue things like that.  My initial reaction after that happened was to just build the damn fence, quick, and block him out.  It worked for a while.
I did not file a police report when it happened, although I probably should have.  Maybe it would have qualified me for a code variance.  Maybe they still wouldn't care.  Now that I think of it, I should have filed when it happened, because there's nothing that can possibly make our neighborly relationship worse at this point.  He already destroyed it by trying to do all that.

With regard to selling the house, well I just bought it. I'm only 23 and it was the best thing I could afford.  Saved up pizza delivery wages for two years to buy it.  I really love the land, house and location, but the neighborhood has it's drawbacks.  I'd still rather have that than an HOA.
Ultimately, this house will eventually become a rental years down the road, bringing me income.  I'll move somewhere where I can live a little more, with some more land and no BS fence restrictions.  I'm just trying to make it to that point, without the City dragging me under.
 
Posts: 75
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Does prickly pear grow in your region? I find it to be the most intimidatig living fence I know. If you put it behind your fence, i would surely not try to cross it.
 
pollinator
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You might be able to grow flying dragon, which can become its own support pretty quick. It should be evergreen where you are. Wicked thorns!
 
pollinator
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I faced some similar obnoxious people when I bought my property on the fringe of a "hood" so I feel your pain!   I spent the first year here building a 6 ft privacy fence all around, plus some landscaping to create my "secret garden".   It stopped the foot traffic through my yard and the view of dogs confined to small runs, and trash piles.......    I chose a house that faces a small woods and borders a gated high end community opposite the hood so I can pretend I'm living in luxury, haha!    Anyhoo....

I don't share the same animus against all city ordinances.  Many of them I appreciate like the noise ordinance, building safety codes that protect buyers from unscrupulous or ignorant builders and handymen,  trash rules, limitations on backyard dog breeder/kennels etc.   It's one of the reasons I chose not to move out to the county because you don't know what kind of "Deliverance" situations are out there and no recourse to tell "them" (the government) to do something about it.  I always check ordinances before doing structural things on my property.  We have a great city website with all that information.    

But in sympathy,  25 feet does seem like a ridiculous setback - ours is 4 feet and I was told that's for access to water and sewer and to preserve good driveway to street visibility which seems logical.    I would have kept the height, pulled it back the extra 9 feet and still use the exterior for garden shrubs like blueberries.   Now that you're at  4 ft height I would first sweetly ask the city WHY that requirement exists so that you don't get in trouble again for adding stuff on top.  Call rather than going in so your frustration won't be detected easily.  

Most likely a solid hedge will be acceptable.     I planted privet hedge along my problem border - mainly because I had a million volunteers in the yard so it was free and grows rapidly up to 30 feet.    In 3 years my seedlings (about a foot tall) had grown to 6 feet and now is about 20 feet tall. But it requires pruning several times a year to keep it thick so evergreens like Ligustrum or Tea Olive are prettier and more practical long term, but more expensive and grow slower short term.  

I once had a house only 15 feet from the neighbor - our bathroom windows faced each other.  I liked my neighbor but value my privacy more so I built a tall sturdy trellis about 18"  in front of my window and planted a sweet smelling climbing yellow rose.  It was lovely :)

And years ago I lived in a marginal neighborhood in Baltimore where, over time, the number of helicopters flying over and shining spotlights in my yard at night got the best of me so I moved.   Not so easy for everyone to do but I was young single and renting.

Best of luck to you.  There is nothing more damaging to one's peace and health than constant anxiety about the neighbors.


 
Kyrt Ryder
Posts: 944
Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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Susan Pruitt wrote:I don't share the same animus against all city ordinances.  

It's one of the reasons I chose not to move out to the county because you don't know what kind of "Deliverance" situations are out there


It's alright. Wouldn't want to disturb any delicate city slicker ears with any epic banjo tunes anyway

and no recourse to tell "them" (the government) to do something about it.


If only it were always that good out here.
 
master pollinator
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Perhaps a moat with alligators or pirannas would please the overlords city council. Perhaps not.

I've seen broken bottles placed upside down on top of fences & walls. Very effective & cheap security fence. If nothing else it just screams "stay off my lawn".

Did someone mention a dog?

2nd amendment.
 
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I'd agree with previous comments on a hedge.  You could always do a hawthorn or blackthorn hedge.  Those things are wicked sharp.  No one in their right mind is going to try to jump one of those even at 3-4'... They're also quite "pretty" in warmer months and stately though a little bare looking in the winter.
 
Sebastian Köln
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Conner Murphy wrote:
I'm typically not one to pursue things like that.  My initial reaction after that happened was to just build the damn fence, quick, and block him out.  It worked for a while.
I did not file a police report when it happened, although I probably should have.  Maybe it would have qualified me for a code variance.  Maybe they still wouldn't care.  Now that I think of it, I should have filed when it happened, because there's nothing that can possibly make our neighborly relationship worse at this point.  He already destroyed it by trying to do all that.



I have a neighbour who used to ignore the property bounds and treat all neighbouring properties as his own. It took three neighbours taking multiple actions to teach him better. Including police reports. There are people who do not respect someone, until they prove their ability to fight to them.
 
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