You may have heard the phrase “zero lot line” while shopping for a new home, particularly if you’re looking at homes classified as garden homes (also known as patio homes). What exactly is a zero lot line and why is it important to understand what they are and what they mean to you? You will see them discussed in relationship to your property boundaries (and on your survey). Property boundaries and lines can be tricky business and we’re here to help you understand a bit more about different setups found on a property survey, and why it matters in construction. First of all, a property survey is a document that outlines the exact boundaries of your piece of land and the location of any improvements built on it. It contains several features.
- Outline of a home or building. It is not a colorful drawing of your house (this is often called a rendering), but really just an outline, so that the shape and size of the structure are clear and drawn exactly where they sit on this parcel of land. Is it right up on the front of it by the street? Nestled somewhere in the exact middle? The survey shows you where the home sits relative to the whole property.
- Man made additions such as decks, pools, sheds, driveways, and fences should also appear, and their exact dimensions and location relative to everything else is measured and drawn.
- Building setbacks are imaginary boundaries created by developers when the neighborhood is first created. They are rules about how far away from the edges of the property that something must be constructed. A good example of this is a neighborhood that might have a 30′ building setback line so that all of the houses along the street are in a perfect line. You don’t find one that is right up on the curb with no front yard and another way back down the street with no backyard. It’s all about uniformity. These are also what allow you to have space between houses, as they typically are described and applied to all edges of the property boundary.
- In order to have utility services at your house, the utility companies have to get their lines or pipes to your house from the street or public access point. When the electric company runs wires from the meter at the street up to your foundation, that wire still belongs to them. If there is a system outage, they need to have access to that wire, even if it means stepping on or digging up your yard. Utility easements are rules filed with the county that give the utility company the right to access specific parts of your property – where their lines, pipes, wires, etc. lie for the purpose of providing you with their service. By default they have the right to access these areas without your explicit permission. They are similar to building setback lines in that you don’t want to build in these areas of your property because if something happens and the utility company needs to access the underground equipment, they do have the right to tear up whatever structures lie in these areas so that they can access their equipment.
Zero Lot Lines
While we have described some details of property surveys in a previous post, there is a very special home type that has what we call a zero lot line. In this style, we ask you to first think of a row of houses in a neighborhood. Each one has a small side yard on each side of it with a fence running along serving as the property line. Basically between each house you have two side yards (the right hand side yard of the first house, then the fence, then the left hand side yard of the second house). Ok, now picture one of those side yards being squeezed out of the picture. In a zero lot line building style, your buffer zone between houses gets reduced. Instead of having two side yards meeting at a fenceline, one of the houses actually becomes that fenceline.
In the illustration above, the first house (House #1) has a left hand side yard and one on the right. Their neighbor (House #2) has a left side yard, but none on the right. So instead of two yards meeting at the fence, the house itself actually becomes the boundary line. Because the boundary of the lot is actually the side wall of the home, is is said that they have a zero lot line. This can create some complicated situations between neighbors.
What if the owner (House #2) wants to paint the outside of their home? In order to repair or update any element of their own house, House #2 would have to get permission to be on the property of their neighbor (House #3). They cannot make any changes to anything except their own structure and any paint or debris from the work would have to be removed from House #3’s yard. Homeowner’s associations or deed restrictions may clarify the first owner’s right to access if there is a dispute.
What if the owners of House #3 want to put up a wrought iron fence along their left side yard? They should be able to do that (always wise to check with the HOA and any deed restrictions before tackling such a project) and they have unrestricted use of all of the yard and space up to a few millimeters from their neighbor’s house (House #2). There is literally zero space between the space they own and the neighbor’s house. Because there is zero space, we get the name zero lot line. It’s important to note though, that they can’t touch the house itself. If the act of putting up the iron fencing damages the house on the left (House #2), the owner on the right (House #3) would have to pay for that damage.
In the above scenario, if the owner of House #3 puts up this fence and then the owner of House #2 decides they want to paint the outside of their house, but can’t access their house due to the fencing, what happens then? In this case, if something is obstructing the owner of House #2’s ability to access their property, they could pay to have that fence removed, but then would have to pay to have it put back exactly as it was prior to that.
image courtesy of cogdogblog