Are There Height Restrictions for Fences in San Mateo, CA

When installing a new fence on your property, one of the most important factors to consider is height restrictions. The city has specific regulations regarding fence heights, particularly relating to front yard fences.

This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of San Mateo’s various fence height limitations to ensure your new fence complies with city code.

Like most cities, San Mateo has laws in place to regulate the maximum height of fences on residential properties.

The restrictions help maintain neighborhood aesthetics, ensure visibility and safety, and promote positive relationships between neighbors.

Fence height limits can vary depending on the fence location on the property. Front yard fences usually have stricter maximum heights than rear and side yards.

Additionally, corner lots and special fence types like security fences may have unique rules. Understanding the specifics for your property’s location and fence style is crucial for avoiding citations.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about San Mateo fence height restrictions. We’ll outline the general limitations as well as exceptions for certain fence types and property locations.

We’ll also discuss how to get approval if your fence requires a taller height, and provide some useful tips for staying within code. Let’s get started!

Height Restrictions for Front Yard Fences

Front yard fences in San Mateo cannot exceed 3 feet in height if they are solid. This includes fences made of wood, vinyl, or masonry.

The 3-foot maximum is intended to maintain an open feel in neighborhoods and allow visibility from the street.

You may build a front yard fence up to 4 feet tall if it has an open design. This means at least 75% of the fence surface must be open space, constructed of decorative metal or similar materials. Chain link front yard fences cannot exceed 3 feet regardless of openness.

The front yard fence height is measured from the top edge to the lowest adjacent grade. Note that a building permit is required for front yard fences over 6 feet tall.

Height Restrictions for Side and Rear Yard Fences

Fences along the sides and rear of San Mateo properties are allowed to have greater heights than front yard fences.

  • For solid side and rear yard fences adjacent to a neighbor, the maximum height is 6 feet.
  • Rear and side yard fences can go up to 8 feet tall if they are at least 50% open/transparent above the 6-foot mark.
  • On properties without abutting neighbors, such fences can potentially reach 8 feet regardless of openness.

As with front fences, height is determined from the highest point of the fence to the lowest nearby grade.

Height Restrictions for Corner Lots

Corner lots have unique fence height considerations in San Mateo. Along the side lot line facing the street, the maximum fence height follows front yard rules. Typically this is 3 feet for a solid fence or 4 feet if the design is at least 75% open.

For the rear lot line on a corner lot that runs alongside the neighboring house, the standard side/rear yard fence heights apply. Solid fences here can be up to 6 feet tall, or 8 feet if the section above 6 feet is at least 50% transparent.

Height Restrictions for Special Types of Fences

Certain fence types have distinct height limits in San Mateo:

  • Pool fences – Must be at least 5 feet tall with a self-closing, self-latching gate. There is no maximum height but any fence above 6 feet requires a building permit.
  • Tennis court fences – Cannot exceed 12 feet tall.
  • Security fences – Barbed wire or razor wire security fences are restricted to 6 feet for commercial properties and prohibited on residential properties.

Electric fences are illegal in San Mateo regardless of height.

Factors That Influence Fence Height Restrictions

Several additional factors can determine your allowed fence height in San Mateo:

  • Zoning – Residential zones tend to have stricter height limits than commercial or industrial areas. Be sure to check your specific zoning designation.
  • Line of sight – Fences cannot block visibility at roadway intersections. Maximum heights may be reduced to preserve line of sight.
  • Easements – Utility easements often prohibit permanent structures. Fence height may be limited across easement zones.
  • Homeowners Associations (HOAs) – If located in an HOA community, their rules may be more restrictive than city regulations. Always check HOA covenants.
  • Historic designation – Properties with historic designation may have added limitations to maintain original architecture and aesthetics.

How to Get Approval for Taller Fences

If your planned fence exceeds San Mateo’s height restrictions, you may be able to get approval by applying for an exception. Reasons for increased height might include:

  • Greater privacy or noise reduction needs
  • Blocking an unsightly view like a busy roadway
  • Security concerns

To apply, submit a request to the Planning Division outlining the location and height of the proposed fence and your rationale. You’ll need to provide plans, photos, and surrounding property details.

If your exception is approved, you’ll likely need to obtain a building permit for the taller fence. There may also be stipulations like using an open design above a certain height.

Understanding the city’s requirements and communicating your specific needs are key to getting approval.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the maximum height for a front yard fence in San Mateo?

The maximum height for a solid front yard fence is 3 feet. You may build up to 4 feet tall if the fence has an open design.

Can I build a 6-foot privacy fence in my backyard?

Yes, 6 feet is the standard maximum height for a solid fence along rear and side property lines in San Mateo.

I live on a corner lot – how high can my fence be?

The side fence facing the street must follow front yard rules, so max 3-4 feet. The rear fence along the neighbor’s house can be up to 6 feet tall.

How high can I make a fence around my pool?

Pool fences must be at least 5 feet but there is no maximum height. Above 6 feet requires a permit.

Can I install barbed wire fencing for security?

Barbed or razor wire is prohibited on residential properties in San Mateo. Commercial properties may have up to 6 feet.

I want an 8-foot fence for privacy – can I apply for an exception?

Yes, you can request approval for a taller height by submitting an application to the Planning Division. Make sure to provide your rationale.


San Mateo has clear specifications regarding permitted fence heights on residential properties.

Front yard heights max out at 3-4 feet, while side and rear yards allow up to 6 feet, or 8 feet with an open design. Specialty fences, corner lots, and other factors like HOAs may further limit the height.

Always carefully review the city regulations before installing a new fence. If your desired height exceeds the basic limits, you can apply for approval by demonstrating your need.

With proper planning and permits, you can construct a fence that provides beauty, privacy and enhances your property while remaining compliant with San Mateo code.

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