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Thread: The case against the zero lot line house

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    The case against the zero lot line house

    The Case Against the Zero Lot Line House

    1. The up-hill side of the house will have the neighbor’s surface water run against the foundation which will be a structural problem that the owner of the house on the property line cannot prevent or correct. The Zero Lot Line owner cannot install an underground drainage system off his property to correct any drainage problem without permission (and disturbance or disruption of existing patio, ground, planting, or other structure) of his neighbor.

    2. Termite treatment cannot be injected into the ground of the neighbor when the foundation is on the property line.

    3. The Zero Lot line residence cannot prohibit the planting of a major tree with massive root system adjacent to his foundation. It has been demonstrated that the roots of such trees suck the moisture out of the ground, which adversely affects the foundation of houses nearby.

    4. The Zero Lot line residence has no control over vines and ivy that may grow on the neighbor’s property, but which may actually climb on the wall of the Zero Lot Line house causing damage to certain wall finishes.

    5. The Zero Lot Line resident cannot fully inspect the wall on the property line without obtaining permission to enter the neighbor’s property.

    6. The Zero Lot Line resident cannot physically maintain or repair the wall on the property line without obtaining permission to enter the neighbor’s property.

    7. The Zero Lot Line residence eave may not be permitted to hang over the property of the neighbor. This would limit the architectural style or cause the design to appear unbalanced if there are eaves on all sides but the neighbor’s side.

    8. The Zero Lot Line resident may have difficulty preventing the attachment of objects to the wall on his property line, or from periodic impacts against the wall.

    9. The Zero Lot Line resident will have no control over the placement of a “lean-to” shed immediately adjacent to his wall, which would prevent full inspection of his wall, and could entice vermin or undesirable growth in the tight space between the shed and his wall.

    10. Placing windows in the wall that is on the property line is undesirable due to privacy and maintenance problems.


    PS
    I have done a Form Search and could not find this topic.
    This zoning is still in our Zoning Ordinance - is it still an acceptable zoning method?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    You get what you pay for.

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Streck, that is a very good list of issues to consider when allowing zero lot line developments...but many can be easily dealt with by applying simple easements and restrictions through titles/Home Owner Associations.

    With the proper thought through development plan and understanding of implications, we can make sure the potential problems with certain urban design scenarios are overcome. We should encourage all kinds of land development.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Adding to mendleman: "...the developer shall provide a perpetual wall maintenance easement of four feet." "An owner' association or restrictive covenants are required to detail operation of common areas, insurance needs, and exterior appearance controls."

    One of my concerns is if a zero lot line unit is fire damaged, can the owner take a walk sticking it to the neighbors?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Adding to Mendelman's post... basically every "downtown" building has these issues. Yet, in 20 years I have never heard of a business complaining that they can't get access for maintenance.

  6. #6
    I lived in a zero lot line place (as both a renter and an owner). I still prefer city living over suburban style living any day.

    My advice is to live where you want to live and don't live where you dont want to live. Choices and options are the best.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    [QUOTEOne of my concerns is if a zero lot line unit is fire damaged, can the owner take a walk sticking it to the neighbors? ][/QUOTE]

    I've seen so many examples of that in the older cities of the northeast. The guy with the still-habitable house is left with risk of water damage, vermin, vagrants, etc. Often the owners of the damaged house don't really mean to "stick it to the neighbors", they just don't have the funds or insurance to make repairs.

    Still, I think a lot of the above concerns can be solved with design and piped drainage. Cities have existed for centuries with zero lot line structures. I lived for years in a duplex with a shared fire wall. Aside from some noise complaints, the shared wall produced no problems.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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    I agree with your concerns... and there are others. The solution I've had the best luck with over the years is a 5' setback upon which the neighbor has a usage easement. In other words, they can use it for their garden (but you can prohibit big trees) but you can still maintain and service your house because you have the right to come into their garden to do so... it's your house.

    Steve Mouzon
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    I think the 5 foot easement does not solve all of the undesireable aspects and problems of a zero lot line house. It would allow full periodic inspection which may become a nuisance or disadvantage to next door ownership, however it would allow an eave all around the house. The lack of view on that wall is not solved, and other problems are not resolved.

    Condominiumsand apartments are in effect "zero lot line" residences. You do give up views, but the maintenance problem is solved by condominium association or apartment maintenance. However, the problems of noise and outdoor privacy are introduced.

    Of course the condominum and the apartment are not zero lot line Single Family Residences.

    I appreciate your comments. Please continue.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    We have a new, single dwelling residential development of 1500+ residences (greenfield) that many of which are zero lot line. They are have maintenance easements, but there are SO many issues regarding retaining walls, cut and fill and people actually building slabs over the lot line. TOO many to detail. Most of these problems arise due to the levels of the land (cut and fill etc) are not the same as on the approved plans- builders and certifiers do not follow or have limited regard, to the plans and problems occur. Also people building over the easements is common too.

    We have seen issues with flooding on neighbouring properties, which if (or when) they flood, have potential to sue the owner of the at fault property and their certifier. We have had issues of road slip because of excess cut.

    Privacy can be dealt with in terms of fences, sill heights and window types.

    Too many issues, where their really shouldnt be. The only way around things is to have a good legal framework (e.g easements and their 88b instrument- sorry NSW titling instruments) and a developer, builder and certifier that do the right thing, perhaps a coordinated/integrated building approach.
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    It seems that if you have to go to Zero Lot Line design (and maintenance easements), your lots may be too small for independent residential living (and the size of houses that people want to put there).

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    Zero lot lines.

    I believe a lot of the issues brought up by this thread are mute points. Most cities that have a majority of the housing stock that are zero lot lines have legal frame work that allows you to make repairs to your property, allow you to enter your neighbors property to maintain your property( with the right permit of course) and having zoning and building codes that address things like pest control, drainage, etc .... Lots that have set backs are also not immune from troubles like encrouchment on the property line and things like pest and drainage. Each building lot type has it's own challenges.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PaulCJr View post
    I believe a lot of the issues brought up by this thread are mute points. Most cities that have a majority of the housing stock that are zero lot lines have legal frame work..
    Actually, people aren't mute on this issue - they are articulating it quite well - but IMHO I think there is a needed market for such housing, and just because people don't care to play by the rules when building them doesn't mean we shouldn't be providing this option.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Are there any places in the US where zero lot line SFHs still make sense to build, or where new developments actually include this type of housing? The only places that I ever see them being built new are in areas where a tear down has happened or in a random undeveloped lot (and I assume these areas would be grandfathered in, if you were making a code change). There are many places where developers build housing that looks like zero lot line SFHs, but it's actually condominum housing with actual shared walls (for at least some of the walls - I see zero lot line duplexes or three-flats in certain areas up and down the west coast, but not SFHs). Many times these are marketed as townhouses or something else that makes them sound like a zero lot line house, but the reality is different.

    Or are we talking about zero lot line multi-family or commercial structures?
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    This zoning is still in our Zoning Ordinance - is it still an acceptable zoning method?
    Still an acceptable zoning method... isn't that a little pretentious?

    You bring up some decent points, but many of these issues can be solved through easements or other community covenants. Even existing zero lot line neighborhoods without easements or covenants have been able to cope with maintenance and other issues.

    I may be biased since I live in one, but I much prefer this style of housing over single family homes or garden apartments. My major concerns are risk of flooding, risk of fire and noise issues. The same concerns anyone would have by choosing to live in a higher density area.

  16. #16
    Everyone, take a deep breath. Now let it out slowly....

    As some of the posters in this thread have mentioned, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people live in zero lot line houses. They have happy, productive lives, they pay their taxes, and their houses are well maintained.

    Its not so bad, things get fixed. There are legal precedents for dealing with issues. Flooding? well doesn't that happen in non-zero lot line subdivisions? Trees causing problems? well I guess that never ever happens in conventional subdivisions.

    Again, the answer is to provide housing options. If you don't want to live in a certain type of neighborhood (single family detached home communities give me the willies, for example), then don't buy or rent in one. Unless you broke a law and there is a court order making you live in a place, then you don't have to go there. Perhaps there are states that have no zero lot line housing and thus no legal precedents and perhaps localities in those states may want to be cautious of approving them. But in most states, these types of places already exist and human nature being what it is, someone has sued someone. So allow them. Really. Its not like those of us who have lived in them live sad, degraded lives.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    The Case Against the Zero Lot Line House

    1....

    10. Placing windows in the wall that is on the property line is undesirable due to privacy and maintenance problems.

    ...
    I don't think anyone has addressed this. You could allow clerestory windows on the zero lot line side of the house. Or even require them if you want to work toward avoiding a totally blank wall.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Windows along the common lot line are prohibited in our codes. But celestory windows should be OK.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    As stated well by others, all of the objections to zero lot line homes can be accommodated by easements and HOA maintenance. The aspect of zero lot lines that has always turned me off is the interior design. You have one long wall that has to be virtually without windows. The interior design of the home has to oriented toward the opposing wall for all windows and doors. It just makes for a different, and in my opinion, strange interior design.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Lyburnum, you make a good point about providing clerestory windows if they are set back at the roof level. They could be placed at the roof line and set back a convenient amount, then the main roof could continue above them. That would at least allow one to check the sky and cloud cover in that direction.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by smccutchan1 View post
    As stated well by others, all of the objections to zero lot line homes can be accommodated by easements and HOA maintenance. The aspect of zero lot lines that has always turned me off is the interior design. You have one long wall that has to be virtually without windows. The interior design of the home has to oriented toward the opposing wall for all windows and doors. It just makes for a different, and in my opinion, strange interior design.
    Row houses in Boston are built to the lot line. Each floor has three windows in front, three windows in back, the entry floor has a door and two windows in front. The stairwells, bathrooms and kitchens are in the center of the buildings. These units run about $400 - $500 a square foot. They are very livable and in very high demand.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Thanks for the discussion points.

    It appears that there are a few additional points against Zero Lot Line zoning:

    Additional points:

    11. Fire hazards such as storage sheds (including flammable material storage), trash piles, or bar-b-q’s could be built too close to your wall or eave. These are things you would never do if you had control over the space, but may not have control over on Zero Lot Line property, or may contribute to ill will between neighbors. This could also contribute to lessening of community Fire Rating.

    12. Provision of a zoning requirement for a maintenance easement is the virtual equivalent of a Side Yard as far as useable space is concerned, but does not provide either owner with full control of his space.

    13. If Zero Lot Line properties are allowed to have a common zero lot line, then you no longer have detached houses in a Single Family district. The houses would be attached, which would require a Townhouse, Condominium, or other special zoning district unless specifically allowed.

    14. A neighbor may re-grade his property in such a way that it damages the subject Zero Lot Line property either structurally or contributes to drainage problems. Either case could present costly legal problems to resolve liability.

    15. Construction encroachments are more critical at a Zero Lot Line location compared to a missed foundation layout within one’s own lot.

    16. Proper planning should involve evaluation of potential difficulties and to prevent them by proper zoning techniques before they occur.

    17. Just because Zero Lot Line used to be a new progressive fad in planning, does not mean that it is good or doesn’t have its problems or unintended consequences. Some of the problems may not rise to public or planner awareness, and are apparently problems that the owners just have to live with. Planners that write zoning ordinances may need to examine the potential problems more thoroughly.

    End

  23. #23
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    I guess I'm a little confused as to what the definition of a "zero lot line" house is. Being a native northeastener, to me "zero lot line" means attached, like these units in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore:

    Bing.com map of Canton, Baltimore, MD

    But "zero lot line" also seems to refer to houses that have strips of land left between them for access. I assume that these strips are easements that are either jointly owned by the neighboring owners or by an HOA. Miami-Dade County's pamphlet on its RU-1Z zero lot line zone has a nice graphic that shows this:

    http://www.miamidade.gov/planzone/Li...ures/RU-1Z.pdf

    So only one wall of a house needs to be on the property line to make it a "zero lot line" house? That's a little strange to me, as I can't see the difference between (1) allowing a house to be on the property line but requiring a 10 foot gap between it an a neighboring house like Miami-Dade does and (2) simply requiring a minimum 5-foot setback for side yards. Also, how do 50% maximum lot coverage and zero lot line go together? I've seen plenty of teardowns in older neighborhoods that covered more of the lot than that and there was nary a zero lot line to be seen.

    What am I missing?

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by JimPlans View post
    So only one wall of a house needs to be on the property line to make it a "zero lot line" house? That's a little strange to me, as I can't see the difference between (1) allowing a house to be on the property line but requiring a 10 foot gap between it an a neighboring house like Miami-Dade does and (2) simply requiring a minimum 5-foot setback for side yards. Also, how do 50% maximum lot coverage and zero lot line go together? I've seen plenty of teardowns in older neighborhoods that covered more of the lot than that and there was nary a zero lot line to be seen.

    What am I missing?
    The difference is the zero lot line house leaves 10-15 feet (depending on your code) on your own property in stead of 5-7 feet. 10-15 feet is enough for a driveway, hence allowing narrower lots.

  25. #25
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by savemattoon View post
    The difference is the zero lot line house leaves 10-15 feet (depending on your code) on your own property in stead of 5-7 feet. 10-15 feet is enough for a driveway, hence allowing narrower lots.
    Also, the muni gets the effect of typical two side setback suburbia, but one can conserve more land overall, theoretically, but I have to remember how/why.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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