My village has a 10-foot rear setback yard line. Which is fine. In my plat of survey, the builder put a 25-foot rear setback yard line. This takes almost half my yard and gives me about 10 feet from that line to my deck.
I wanted to install a pool, but because of that 25-foot setback line, the village won’t approve my plans. They also tell me that I can’t change the 25-foot setback. That means for the next 1,000 years, it will be set in stone because some builder randomly decided on that line. To me, that seems abusive. It makes any use of my yard pretty limited. Can anything be done?
You seem angry that a developer set up certain restrictions on your property, restrictions you should have known about when you bought the home.
We think that you’re out of line here. You purchased the property with those setbacks in place, and you should have known how they would apply to your yard. You say that you can’t make use of your yard, but a rear yard has many uses other than to build an addition or patio or install a swimming pool.
For a little perspective, if you wanted to have little or no use restrictions on your land, you’d have probably needed to buy land in an area that does not regulate land uses and does not have extensive zoning laws. Many of these areas are remote and unincorporated areas that don’t offer amenities such as water and sewer. They may not have schools nearby, and they may not have police and fire protection services.
As you get closer to urban areas, you tend to see greater land-use restrictions.
When a developer decides to create a new community, the builder will try to create an environment and atmosphere for the owners that benefit the community as a whole. One thing builders do is to build the homes a bit off the street — a setback from the street and sidewalks. The second thing they do is to create an area within each lot where a home and other improvements can be located. If you allow structures to be built close to the lot lines, the appearance of having open space between the homes can be broken.
Frequently, lot sizes matter quite a bit when it comes to setback lines. If you live in a congested urban area, you will often see 3-foot side-yard setbacks and may also have a 3- to 5-foot rear-yard setback. But lot sizes may be as narrow as 25 feet and only about 100 feet deep. So each foot truly counts when you are talking about a 2,500-square-foot lot.
If you have a 10,000-square-foot lot, those setbacks can increase substantially depending on what the developer is planning for within the community. If the design has been construed to have a sense of open space in the back yards of homes, the developer may have large setbacks and may restrict fences and impose other restrictions on what can be done in those back yards.
Once those setbacks are in place, they are virtually impossible to remove. You alone can’t get it undone. You purchased the home with that restriction, and you are bound to abide by that restriction. In several hundred years, if a builder buys up the land in your development and decides to redevelop the whole community, that developer can create a whole new plan for the community with smaller or larger setbacks, depending on where development has gone.
Finally, you should understand that setback lines may allow you to place temporary items in that area. You may be able to place a volleyball net there. You might even be able to place a grass tennis court, but you may be limited on permanent improvements. Having said that, there are times that setback lines allow below-grade improvements, such as pools, but don’t allow above-grade improvements such as sheds and playsets.
One last thought: There are times that those setback lines are in place to allow utility companies to run their equipment and wires either underground or aboveground in the setback areas. Whether this is the case for you is unknown, but those utility areas are usually limited to about 10 to 15 feet in width around a property.
Ilyce Glink is the creator of an 18-part webinar+ebook series called “The Intentional Investor: How to Be Wildly Successful in Real Estate” as well as the author of many books on real estate. She also hosts the “Real Estate Minute” on her YouTube channel. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them at ThinkGlink.com.