Building codes & zoning laws Assigning your deck project to a contractor who is familiar with local building codes and zoning ordinances is one way to reduce your worries about them.
If you are planning to build the deck, visit your local building inspector or official as soon as your ideas are reasonably solid. He can help you with codes that apply to your specific plan. Although you may consider any limitation a nuisance, building codes, zoning laws, and deed restrictions are designed to protect you from poor construction practices, property misuse, and deterioration of neighborhood standards. (Fortunately, there are legitimate ways to circumvent over- protective or outdated restrictions.)
Building codes. City and county building departments are charged with making sure that homes are structurally safe, free of health hazards, and within the legal rights of both homeowner and neighbors. Having reviewed thousands of home improvement plans over the years, building officials are well acquainted with complications you may encounter, and they can be of valuable service to you.
Zoning ordinances. Zoning ordinances are designed mainly to keep commercial and residential properties separate, but in many jurisdictions, these ordinances establish building setbacks from property lines as well as minimum height and lot coverage requirements that could affect your patio plan. Your building department (or, in some communities, planning commission) regulates these laws.
Deed restrictions. In some communities—particularly where a certain architectural character exists—you may find some restrictions in your deed that limit the kind or extent of improvements you can make on your property. You may be limited to working in a particular style (usually blending with the style of the house), or to using particular materials, or to building in specific locations on your lot. Check your deed before you plan; its restrictions may override zoning laws.
Variances. If your proposed patio violates local zoning requirements, invades the required open space around the lot, or comes too close to the sidewalk, you can petition your local planning commission for approval of a variance. The building inspector may be able to help you prepare a variance, but your actual presentation is a matter between you and the commission. (You should have the approval of your neighbours; without it, your variance will probably be turned down.)
Building permits. Your deck project may not require a building permit; if it does, a single permit may cover the job as a whole. If the project is complex, however, you may need a separate permit for electrical wiring or plumbing. The fee for each permit is usually based on the value of the improvement.