The Zoning Department will need to review a site plan to make sure that the location you are planning on installing the deck doesn’t encroach with any setbacks or easements. Most houses built since the 1980s will have a professional property survey document included with the closing papers. If you live in an older house or can’t find the survey, you may want to check with the Building Department to see if they have a copy they can supply you with. With this document, you can simply draw your deck to scale and list the distances to each property line. You will need to maintain a certain distance from side, rear and front setbacks.
If there is a conflict, you may be able to apply for a variance, but this will often take some time and money and there are no guarantees that you will get what you want. You will usually have to provide a valid reason like some kind of hardship. If your property is located on a street corner, you may have to adhere to more stringent setback requirements to maintain a certain distance away from the street. If you can’t come up with an official survey, the Building Inspections Department may accept a hand sketch based on measurements you take. To do this you will probably have to locate and verify the iron spikes that mark the corners of your property. These rules are laid out by the local Zoning Department and are enforced to different levels. In some cases you may be forced to hire a professional surveyor to draft an official survey.
Building codes are concerned with fire spread, ensuring that one home will not catch another on fire. Maintaining sufficient distance between building structures will both satisfy this concern. Decks are not clearly described in building codes regarding the safe distance, referred to as “fire separation distance”. However, the home itself can be as close as 5 feet, so that’s a conservative distance to go with.
Planning and zoning departments in urban areas are concerned with the quality, value, aesthetics and the overall comfort of a neighborhood for the occupants. “Setbacks” is the general term used for the distances from property lines necessary to provide those characteristics, and they are not always consistent from neighborhood to neighborhood. Dense developments, with many dwellings per unit area, may have setbacks as small as 5 feet. Other more sprawling developments have setbacks upwards of 35 feet or more.