Zoning Requirements - What Can I Do With My Property?



FAQ's Zoning

1. How can I find out how my property is zoned, what uses may be established on the property, and what the applicable setback requirements are for my property?

The uses that are allowed on a particular lot are governed by the regulations for the zoning district in which the lot is located and other general regulations. The minimum yard requirements, more commonly referred to as "setback requirements," along with other location regulations, restrict the location of structures on a lot. The setback requirements vary by zoning district. In order to find out the zoning of your property and how the use of the property is regulated, click here or contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711.

2. I want to build an addition to my house and also add a deck. How close to the lot line can these structures be built? 

The distance from any proposed addition to the property lines is regulated by the minimum yard requirements (setback requirements) set forth in the zoning district regulations in the Zoning Ordinance. Each zoning district has unique minimum required yards and the answer depends on the zoning district in which your property is located. The construction of a deck is also regulated by the minimum yard requirements, but, depending on the height and features of the proposed deck, it may be permitted to extend into the minimum required yards. You will need to contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711 to discuss location restrictions on your property.

3. Where can I get a building permit?

Application for a Building Permit is made at the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Permit Application Center at 12055 Government Center Parkway on the 2nd floor. Normally, Building Permit applications require the submission of building construction plans and a plat. The application is then reviewed for compliance with various building code requirements and to ensure that the nature and location of the proposed construction complies with Zoning Ordinance requirements. Please call the Permit Application Center at 703-222-0801, TTY 711 for information on obtaining a Building Permit.

4. What are the restrictions on the placement of sheds in residential yards?

The county regulates the location of all storage sheds and, in some instances, also requires the approval of a Building Permit prior to the establishment of a shed on a lot. The Zoning Ordinance contains regulations regarding the permitted location for a shed based on the total height of the structure. For Zoning Ordinance purposes, the total height of the shed is measured from the lowest ground level adjoining the shed to the highest point of the structure. Generally: 

  • A shed shall NOT be located (a) in any minimum required front yard on any lot or (b) in any front yard on any lot containing 36,000 square feet or less.

  • A shed that is 8 ½ feet or less in total height may be located anywhere in a side or rear yard.

  • A shed that exceeds 8 ½ feet in total height cannot be located closer to the rear lot line than a distance equal to its height and cannot be located closer to the side lot line than a distance equal to the minimum required side yard setback for the lot.

These regulations apply regardless of whether or not a Building Permit is required. If county easements are present on a lot, no structures shall encroach into the ground or air space of the easement. Before locating a shed on your property, please contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711. Building Permits are required for sheds that are attached to an existing structure and for detached sheds or other accessory structures which are over 200 square feet in area. For information on whether a Building Permit is required, please contact the Permit Application Center of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) at 703-222-0801, TTY 711, or view the Additions and Garages Web page.

4. Are there any regulations regarding the location and height of fences and walls?

The county's Zoning Ordinance regulates the location of fences and walls on a lot based on the height of the fence or wall. On most residential lots, the Zoning Ordinance only allows a fence or wall of 4 feet or less in the front yard. Remember that on corner lots, the two yards which lie between the principal building and the intersecting streets are both deemed to be front yards. In a side or rear yard, a fence or wall of not more than 7 feet is generally allowed. There are some limited exceptions to these rules for particular types of lots that abut or are in close proximity to major thoroughfares. For specific information regarding your property and designation of the yards on your lot, please contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711. In many instances, a Building Permit is not required for a fence. For information regarding Building Permit requirements, please contact the Permit Application Center of the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services at 703-222-0801, TTY 711.

4. Can I operate a business from my home?

Under the Zoning Ordinance provisions, certain types of businesses may be conducted from a residence either as a Home Occupation (Part 3 of Article 10), which is subject to approval by the Zoning Administrator in accordance with specific limitations, or as a Home Professional Office (Sect. 8-907 of Article 8 ), which is subject to the approval of a special permit by the Board of Zoning Appeals following a public hearing. To determine if your proposed use will qualify as a Home Occupation or a Home Professional Office under the provisions of the Zoning Ordinance, please contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711. To obtain a special permit application package or for additional information regarding the special permit process, please contact the Zoning Evaluation Division of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-324-1290, TTY 711. Please note that certain types of businesses may require additional permits or licenses from other county agencies, such as the Health Department, the Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection, and the Department of Tax Administration, among others.

5. I want to care for children in my home. How many can I care for and do I need a permit? 

Under the Zoning Ordinance, a home child care facility is allowed in the following two ways: 

    1. As a by right accessory use, if the number of nonresident children does not exceed seven in a single family detached dwelling and five in a single family attached dwelling (townhouse), a multiple family dwelling (apartment) or a mobile home dwelling; and

    2. As a special permit use, upon approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), for a potential maximum of twelve (12) nonresident children.

The involvement of one nonresident person in the home child care facility is allowed by right, but any more than one requires special permit approval. In addition to a special permit approval, if applicable, depending on the number of children being cared for and their ages, either a county home child care facility permit issued by the Fairfax County Office for Children or a State license issued by the Virginia Department of Social Services is required. Please note that under State regulations up to 12 children may be allowed, Fairfax County as well allows a maximum of 12 children. You may contact the Office for Children at 703-324-CARE, TTY 711 for more information regarding the county's home child care facility permit and State licensing procedure. For information regarding the special permit process please contact the Zoning Evaluation Division of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-324-1290, TTY 711.

6. What are the restrictions on keeping animals?

There are limitations on the number of animals that can be kept based on the size of your lot for: dogs, livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, swine, goats, llamas, alpacas and other similar domesticated animals), domestic fowl (chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese), honeybees and pigeons. The Zoning Ordinance does not regulate the number of cats that can be kept. The keeping of commonly accepted pets is allowed as an accessory use on any lot, provided such pets are for personal use and enjoyment, and not for any commercial purpose. The keeping of livestock or domestic fowl is allowed as an accessory use on any lot of two (2) acres or more in size. The keeping of wild, exotic, or vicious animals is not permitted except under some limited circumstances as provided for in Chapter 41 of the Fairfax County Code. Accessory structures associated with the keeping or housing of animals are subject to certain location regulations set forth in Part 1 of Article 10 of the Zoning Ordinance.

The number of dogs permitted as an accessory use must be in accordance with the following:

Number of Dogs  - Minimum Lot Size

1 to 2 - No requirement

3 to 4- 12,500 square feet

5 to 6 - 20,000 square feet

7 or more -  25,000 square feet plus 5,000 square feet for each additional dog above 7

For additional information, please contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711. For information regarding additional legal aspects of animal ownership and additional information regarding the keeping of wild, exotic or vicious animals, contact Animal Control at 703-830-1100, TTY 711.

7. Are there any restrictions on parking vehicles on residential property? 

    1. No solid waste collection vehicle, tractor and/or trailer of a tractor-trailer truck, dump truck, construction equipment, cement-mixer truck, wrecker with a gross weight of 12,000 pounds or more, or similar such vehicles or equipment shall be parked in any residential district.

    2. Any commercial vehicle parked in a residential district shall be owned and/or operated only by the occupant of the dwelling unit at which it is parked.

The parking of any vehicle, whether personal or commercial, within the right-of-way of any public street is regulated by Chapter 82 of the County Code and enforced by the Fairfax County Police Department and is not regulated by the Zoning Ordinance.

8. Are there any limitations on how many dwelling units can be built on a lot or on how many people may occupy a dwelling unit?

Generally, the Zoning Ordinance limits you to no more than one (1) dwelling unit per lot, regardless of the size of the lot, with some limited exceptions. By Zoning Ordinance definition, a dwelling unit is any accommodation where one or more rooms in a residential building or residential portion of a building are arranged, designed, used, or intended for use as a complete, independent living facility which includes permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation. Accordingly, the creation of a small apartment in the basement of a house or townhouse would constitute the establishment of a second dwelling unit on the lot and would be a violation of the Zoning Ordinance unless it met the criteria for one of the exceptions.

The Zoning Ordinance also contains limitations on the occupancy of a dwelling unit. As a matter of right, a dwelling unit may be occupied by not more than one (1) of the following:

    • One (1) family, which may consist of one (1) person or two (2) or more persons related by blood or marriage with any number of natural children, foster children, step children or adopted children and with not to exceed two (2) roomers or boarders with a Home Occupation Permit.

    • Two (2) single parents or guardians with not more than a total of six (6) of their dependent children, including natural children, foster children, step children or adopted children, functioning as a single housekeeping unit.

    • A group of not more than four (4) unrelated persons functioning as a single housekeeping unit.

    • A group residential facility ("Group Home").

In addition, a dwelling unit may be occupied as a group housekeeping unit or an accessory dwelling unit subject to special permit approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals or as a bed and breakfast subject to special exception approval by the Board of Supervisors.

For further information on these topics, please contact the Zoning Permit Review Branch of the Department of Planning and Zoning at 703-222-1082, TTY 711.

9. Is the displaying of signs regulated by the county?

Yes, most signs on private property require the issuance of a sign permit before the signs are installed. Article 12 of the Zoning Ordinance sets forth separate sign regulations for signs related to residential, commercial or industrial uses. Generally, the amount of sign area that may be permitted for a given commercial or industrial use is dependent upon the amount of building frontage occupied by the use. Additionally, signs may also require separate Building and/or Electrical Permits , depending on the size of the sign and whether the sign is illuminated. For information relating to the installation of signs and the sign area allowed, contact the Zoning Inspections Branch of the Zoning Administration Division at 703-324-4300, TTY 711.

10. How do I report a possible violation of zoning regulations?

Alleged violations of the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance may be reported directly to the Zoning Enforcement Branch by one of the following methods:

    1. Online: Department of Code Compliance
    2. By phone: Call 703-324-1300, TTY 711 during the hours of 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday.

Anonymous complaints are not accepted. When reporting an alleged violation, complainants should be able to provide the following information:

    • Address of the property where the alleged violation is located

    • Nature of complaint, with as many details as possible

    • Name, address and contact phone number of complainant.

11. I understand that my lot may be located in a "floodplain" or a "flood zone." Can this affect my plans to build on that lot?

The presence of a floodplain or flood zone on your property can affect its use or development. Information regarding floodplain or flood zones can be obtained from the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Stormwater Planning Division at 703-324-5500, TTY 711.

12. Is it possible to obtain a copy of a plat of my property from the county?

Copies of final location plats are on file for many, but not all, dwellings in the County. If you would like to obtain a copy of a plat for your property, call the Zoning Permit Review Branch (ZPRB), Department of Planning and Zoning, at 703-222-1082, TTY 711. You must provide either the street address or the County tax map reference number in order to obtain a plat. If a copy of your plat is on file, staff can either mail you a copy or you may pick it up at the ZPRB office located at 12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 250, Fairfax, VA 22035. The hours of operation are 8:00 AM to 4:00 pm Monday through Thursday and 9:15 AM to 4:00 PM Friday. Please note that, due to the distortion of plats during transmittal, faxed plats are not acceptable for submission with Building Permits. If a copy of your plat is not on file with the County, search your residential loan closing documents or contact the lending institution from which your mortgage was obtained.

13. Does the county enforce any of the covenants or deed restrictions that may be applicable to my subdivision?

Many of the subdivisions in the county are subject to covenants and deed restrictions which regulate the use of property beyond the limitations contained in the county's ordinances. These deeds and covenants are private agreements between property owners and are not enforced by the county. Therefore, before you add a shed or fence to your property or initiate any other significant changes, you should also check with your homeowners' association to determine if any restrictions apply.


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