In Tennessee, the state has laws regarding fences as to how they pertain to livestock. Municipalities and counties in the state also have local ordinances regarding fences in urban areas. Different districts within a city can have their own unique rules about fences.
The question, “What is the fence law in Tennessee?” can best be answered by looking up the combination of Tennessee fence laws and local ordinances that apply to the specific area in question.
What Is a Partition Fence?
State laws provide that a partition fence is a fence erected on the property line between lands owned by different individuals. No owner is compelled by law to allow their neighbor to join a fence exclusively on that owner's land. Occupants or owners may erect and repair partition fences and bear the costs jointly.
If a person joins or uses a partition fence that another party has built, the joiner or user must pay their proportion of the expense to the party who built the fence.
Knoxville Fence Ordinances
Knoxville’s fence ordinances can be found in Section 7.2.7 of its municipal code, which relates to landscaping and screening. These regulations apply to all fences that an owner builds, not to fences that have long been in existence and that an owner will repair.
The regulations state that fences may be placed up to the property line. Posts and supporting rails must face inward toward the property being fenced.
A fence in a primary or side-street yard that is not used for a required screen (the concealment of a building or property from the street) cannot be more than 6 feet high. The opacity (lack of transparency) of a wall or a fence above 4 feet high must exceed 50 percent. A wall or a fence in a side or rear yard cannot be more than 8 feet high.
Additional Knoxville Ordinances
Fences must be constructed of high quality materials including:
- Composite fencing (combination of two or more materials, such as wood and plastic).
- Wrought iron.
- PVC vinyl or another approved material.
A fence may not be located within a required drainage or utility easement.
A property owner or manager may not use barbed wire or concertina wire (coiled barbed wire used as an obstacle) in a fence. Chain-link fences are not permitted in a primary or side-street yard. A fence that materially blocks vision for vehicular sight distance is also prohibited.
Nashville Fence Ordinances
Nashville has a number of ordinances in place relating to fences that affect property owners ranging from homeowners to commercial businesses. The regulations that apply to residential zoning districts can be found at Section 16-004-200 of ordinances for the Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County. Davidson County also has a website specifically about building fences.
In Nashville, it is prohibited to erect fences with barbs or sharp projections on top unless the fence is 5 feet or more from a property line. Alternatively, the fence may be over 7 feet above grade and projecting inward toward the property being enclosed.
In all residential zoning districts, barbed wire and razor wire fencing are prohibited unless the property satisfies all requirements of Section 17.16.330 of the Nashville metropolitan zoning code, which relates to keeping domestic animals and wildlife on the property. The owner must have all necessary permits to engage in those activities.
Nashville Nonresidential Fences
In nonresidential zoning districts, barbed or razor wire below 7 feet on a fence along a property line is prohibited. The exception is if the barbed or razor wire is meant to contain domestic animals and wildlife.
If a fence is erected along a sidewalk in the urban services district, a defined area that pays an additional property tax for services such as police protection, the owner may not place more than a single strand of barbed wire along the top of a fence over 7 feet high. This rule does not prevent a property owner from stretching a single strand of barbed wire on the top of any fence over 7 feet high to prevent someone from climbing over it.
Nashville’s urban zoning overlay district (UZO) is a district within the city that has additional restrictions on uses. Within the UZO, barbed wire and razor wire fencing are prohibited along arterial (high-capacity) roads and collector (lower-capacity) roads defined by the city’s major and collector street plan.
Fencing Materials in Nashville
Except when the metropolitan zoning code provides otherwise, fences must be constructed using only these materials:
- Woven wire or chain link.
- Wrought iron.
- Wood, vinyl, steel or aluminum slats of no more than 1 inch by 6 inches in width hung vertically, horizontally or diagonally between steel, wood or vinyl posts no further than 10 feet apart.
- Masonry (stonework) consisting of brick, concrete block, split-face block (a variation of concrete block with an irregular face designed to look like chiseled stone), dry-stack stones (a building method in which stones are stacked without mortar to find them), or stones and mortar.
- Plastic or other synthetic material treated in a way that maintains the fence in good structural condition with an appearance that is aesthetically compatible with the type of fence it represents.
- Decorative-type split rail (a fence made with slats of wood split lengthwise from a log) or dry-stack stone, both for decorative fences.
Metal fences must consist of materials manufactured and/or treated to prevent rust or corrosion. Wood fences must be painted, stained or preserved to maintain the fence in good structural condition. All fences must be maintained so as to preserve the structural integrity and appearance of the fence. This means the property owner must replace broken boards or sections and prevent paint from peeling.
Exceptions to Fence Material Rules
The rules regarding fence materials do not apply to:
- Temporary construction fences
- Temporary tree protection fences
- Temporary festival fences
- Fences around a place of incarceration, such as a jail or prison
A property owner must build a fence so that fence crossbeams (transverse beams) and cross bracing (a method of reinforcing building structures in which diagonal supports intersect) face the interior of the property.
Cross beams and cross bracing cannot be oriented toward the street or neighboring property.
Building Close to Property Boundary Line
How close to the property line a property owner may build a house or a commercial structure in Tennessee varies by city and county. A property owner or the adjoining landowner may build a fence up to the property line but not on the property line. Property owners in Tennessee should check their zoning and municipal or county codes before planning fence construction.
- Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Code of Ordinances: Section 16-004-200 Fences
- City of Knoxville, Tennessee, Code of Ordinances: Section 7-2-7 Landscaping and Screening
- Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County Code of Ordinances: Section 13.32.120 Barbed Wire Fences Prohibited — Exceptions
- Nashville.gov: Building a Fence in Davidson County
- Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County Code of Ordinances: Section 17.16.330 Other Accessory Uses
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.