The following are general guideline regarding fences and planting in San Francisco properties.
San Francisco regulations on fences are based on the location of the fences on the property and required yards and setbacks. All San Francisco residential districts have rear yard requirements and some districts have side yard and front setback requirements. Some San Francisco commercial districts have rear yard requirement and in any commercial, industrial or mixed use district have residential use at the first story.
In San Francisco, fences in a required front setback are limited to maximum height of 3 feet if solid or 6 feet if 75% open. Fences in required rear or side yards are limited to 10 feet in height. Fences in the “buildable area” (where a building can be located), have no specified height restriction other than the height limit for the lot. However, for fences greater than 10 feet high in the “buildable area”, neighborhood notification may be required and design review standards may limit the allowable height of the fence. If the fence is less than or equal to 10 feet in height and it meets all other applicable limitations, it will most likely be approved over the counter.
Instead of traditional fences, you can consider hedge plants to define the edges of your property with the added benefit of colorful foliage that you don’t get with traditional fences. Hedge plants can be low or tall pending on the species so it is much more flexible than fences. Some of the common hedge plants that do well in San Francisco are boxwood, barberry, privet, common lilac and pittosporum tenuifolium.
If you have trees in your property, the City of San Francisco may have the right to control the trees in your property or in the “public right of way” if the tree is classified as “significant” or “landmark” tree. “Public right of way” runs from property line to property line, in most cases from building face to building face. For maintenance purpose, the San Francisco Department of Public Works is responsible from curb to curb and the property owners are responsible from face of building to curb which generally is the sidewalk.
“Significant” trees are within 10 feet of the public right-of-way and also meet one of the following size requirements: 20 feet or greater in height, 15 feet or greater canopy width, or 12 inches or greater trunk diameter measured at 4.5 feet above grade. A permit is required before any significant tree can be removed.
“Landmark” trees are trees that have been designated by the Board of Supervisors as extra special. It may be due to the rareness of the species, their size or age, or ecological contribution. In addition, historical or cultural importance can qualify a tree for Landmark Status. Landmark trees are protected from physical damage and removal.