Side Yard Activation

Side Yard

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Owners who wish to build Zero Lot Line Construction may have difficulty coordinating the ingredients of a side yard condition — especially when windows are desired — and this coordination is given in this pattern. …etc

The side yard is a highly efficient urban type that takes maximum advantage of otherwise wasted space, and offers an excellent indoor-outdoor relation. But incremental development of lots can create unforeseen problems.

The side yard allows activation of what may otherwise be a dark, useless setback area between buildings.  Essentially, one building pulls back, in whole or in part, far enough to create at least a 3m (10’) strip of yard. (For optimum solar exposure, this is ideally the building to the north or west in most Northern Hemisphere climates, and the one to the south or west in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Such a side yard can allow a very strong indoor-outdoor relationship.  Where the yard faces the front, it can also create a strong semi-private relationship to the street and public realm.  (In some patterns this side yard becomes a beautiful entrance patio.)  Where the rear area is on an alley, there may not be space for a rear yard, and a side yard may be the only option, or a welcome supplement to a very small rear yard, creating a greater sense of outdoor space in an otherwise intense urban environment.

However, when development is incremental, a number of things can go wrong.  The adjoining building may have windows facing directly into this private area.  Or the adjoining building may have a tall wall and/or broad eaves, which block out sun and create an undesirably dark space (in all but the hottest and sunniest climates).   If the adjoining building is set back from its property line to allow for windows — as many fire codes require – there may be a useless strip of setback yard with a fence, making it all the more difficult to maximize outdoor space.

A series of rules agreed to by the owners can avoid these problems.  A standard reciprocal agreement can allow the yard to be maximized in width while the abutting owner is allowed to have windows that manage privacy, and assured the right of access for maintenance.  In turn, that owner might enter into the same agreement with the next owner, allowing the benefits to extend down the line of properties.

In practice this means that the property line is adjusted for the building abutting the side yard, to comply with fire codes for window placement.  A reciprocal easement is created over the yard, to allow the abutting owner to access their building for maintenance, and to allow the owner of the side yard to use the other owner’s strip as part of their yards, subject to restrictions (e.g. items that might restrict maintenance access, or damage the adjoining building).


Whenever an owner of a lot wishes to construct a side yard, and the adjacent owner wishes to have windows in that area, create a lot line adjustment that allows a tract of land sufficient for windows to meet fire codes. Create a reciprocal easement on this tract, and on the yard, such that both owners have access as needed for maintenance. Create an agreement specifying restrictions on use of the yard sufficient to provide maintenance access, and specifying placement of windows, walls and eaves to ensure privacy and good light.

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