Fences & Walls

Currently, no permit is required to build fences or walls (retaining walls do require a permit) within Durham City or County Limits, unless the property is located in a designated flood plain. However, there are certain requirements in the Unified Development Ordinance which must be met, concerning height, location, and style of fences allowed. When the term "fence" is used, please understand that you need to include the term "wall" for the purposes of the ordinance. If the fence is located in the side or rear yard, the maximum allowed height is 8 feet, unless on a corner lot. When a fence is located in the front yard, the maximum allowed height is 4 feet. A permit is required when the fence/wall is used as a pool barrier on parcels of single family dwellings.  Commercial fences/wall under 6 ft. do not require a building permit at all unless they are swimming pool guards or affect fire department access.

Board of Adjustment

As in many things, there are exceptions. For corner lots, fences located between the primary structure and the side street are limited to a maximum of 4 feet in height along the entire street yard unless a use permit is obtained from the Board of Adjustment.

If the lot has 2 acres or more, a fence may exceed the 4 foot height limit up to a maximum of 8 feet height without Board of Adjustment approval if the fence is at least 50 feet from any right-of-way and can be seen through due to the type material from which it is constructed, such as a split-rail or chain-link fence. For more information on when a fence must be approved through the Board of Adjustment, contact the Planning Department, 919-560-4137.

Deciding Factors

When the Board of Adjustment is asked to rule on whether a fence may exceed the limits of the ordinance, they must decide based upon the following factors, as well as site-specific criteria:
  • How the fence affects natural light regarding that lot or the surrounding lots
  • How the normal circulation of air is affected by the fence
  • That the fence will not hinder emergency services to any of the properties involved
  • That the fence will be reasonably compatible with and not adversely affect the property values of the surrounding properties
  • That vision clearances for pedestrian and vehicular traffic will not be impeded

Higher Fences

In certain cases, higher fences and walls are shown on commercial site plans than the 8 feet which is mentioned by the Unified Development Ordinance. In these cases, a variance is required for any fence taller than allowed by-right per UDO 9.9, not just commercial fences. If an applicant wants a taller fence, they will need to apply for a variance from the fence height requirements from the BOA and will need to meet the criteria for a variance which is found here: https://durham.municipal.codes/UDO/3.14.8.