For many homeowners, building a new deck and enhancing their outdoor living space is exciting. To avoid legal problems, you should do your due diligence before starting work or even making plans. Keep reading to learn how to make your deck safe and legal.

Jeff Shipwash

Jeff Shipwash

Jeff Shipwash, CEO of Shipwash Properties LLC.

Understand Local Building Codes

When you first decide to build a deck, you need to consider and research building codes in your area. This will help you in the design phase of your deck. Most local building codes require some type of setback. In addition, most [localities] require a permit before construction.

Permits ensure the structure is built in compliance with local building codes. If your home is located in an HOA, you will need to review your bylaws to see if any deck requirements exist. In our experience, some HOAs do not allow any free-standing decks.

Although this is technically not required in most areas, it is a good idea to hire and consult with a professional contractor that is licensed and bonded. Most contractors will handle the process of filing permits and are usually more up to date on local building criteria.

Consult Your Local Building Department

There are several specific rules and requirements for installing a deck that is governed by your local building department. The requirements for a deck will slightly vary for each town so you’ll want to be sure to consult your local building department for a general overview of the requirements for installing a deck.

After you have a solid understanding of the basic requirements, you can work with your contractor to create a detailed construction plan for the deck to submit to the building department for approval before starting the project.

You should use a survey to make sure the deck is constructed on property owned by you and within the legal distance of the lot line.

Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel

Bill Samuel, Owner of Blue Ladder Development.
Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor, Founder of

2 Decking Rules to Keep in Mind

The 30” Rule
If your deck is higher than 30” off the ground, you’ll need a permit. Any deck that’s lower is legally considered a patio. The reason for needing the permit is to ensure safety. If your deck is more than 30” of the ground, you’ll be required to install deck railings. The railing will also be required to follow certain rules.

State, City, and Local Permits
When applying for a permit, you need to jump the hoops that your state, city, and locality require you to. You need to remember that different locations will have a different set of requirements. The HOAs will also require you to obtain a permit before building your deck. These different requirements not only take a look at how safe your deck will be but also how it will affect your neighborhood.

Injury Liability Due to Negligence

Arguably the most important legal nuance to keep in mind when building a new deck is a liability for injuries to others due to negligence. Under negligence law, property owners owe a duty to renters and others who come onto their property. That duty is one of reasonable care to prevent injuries.

Landlords owe a heightened duty to tenants for injuries. If you’re a landlord, the duty to use reasonable care is “non-delegable,” meaning that the landlord cannot contract away that responsibility. The duty not only covers making sure the deck is built properly. It also extends to reasonable maintenance and repairs.

Homeowners also owe a duty to friends, family, and other social guests to use reasonable care to avoid injury to such guests. Generally, a homeowner’s responsibility to social guests extends only to injuries caused by reckless conduct or conditions that pose an unreasonable risk of harm.

A homeowner must warn guests of dangerous conditions on the property that are not obvious and that a guest would not realize are dangerous.

Lauren Blair

Lauren Blair

Lauren Blair is a lawyer with She has over 25 years of experience in litigation.

This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors' statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.


  • Nate Barrett

    As the President of SRI Decks, my greatest satisfaction comes from the immediate sense of fulfillment that our work brings. From the initial design discussions with our customers to the moment we capture the final project in photos, I feel an immense pride in my team for their dedicated efforts. My passion for hands-on work and outdoor projects is matched only by the joy I derive from seeing a delighted customer when we’ve successfully completed a job. Fun Facts: I like hot chocolate in my coffee. I’ve been with SRI for 12 years, prior to ownership. I have a daughter, 3 dogs and a loving girlfriend.

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