Before Building a Tree House, Find Out About What Zoning Rules Apply

Jan. 5, 2012


  • Zoning rules dictate where a tree house can be placed in a yard.
  • Because zoning rules vary by district, call 703-324-1314, TTY 711, to learn what's allowed for a specific property.
  • A building permit isn't needed for a tree house or other playground equipment.

Before building a tree house, county residents should contact the Department of Planning and Zoning to learn what zoning rules apply. Call the Ordinance Administration Branch at 703-324-1314, TTY 711, and ask for the zoning resource planner.

Because zoning rules vary by district, it’s important to call to find out what laws apply to a specific property.

A tree house is never permitted in a required front yard, and in general, a tree house may be located in any part of any side or rear yard—if it doesn’t exceed seven feet in height.

If the tree house exceeds seven feet in height, it must be setback at a distance equal to its height from the rear lot line and a distance equal to the side yard setback from the side lot line. (As an example, a 15-foot tall tree house that’s located on a property with a 12-foot minimum required side yard must be setback at least 15 feet from the rear lot line and at least 12 feet from the side lot line.)  

The height of the tree house is measured from the highest point of the house to the lowest point of the finished ground adjacent to the tree house.

In addition to these zoning requirements, homeowners associations also may have rules about whether tree houses are allowed and where they may be placed. If a property is within an HOA, residents should contact their association's management for more information.

Building permits are not required for tree houses or other playground equipment, such as jungle gyms or play houses. However, zoning rules still apply to this equipment.

Visit the department’s Web page on zoning setback requirements to learn what rules apply to other kinds of accessory structures, such as sheds and garages.

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