Permitting Tips from Portland & Hillsboro Landscapers

November 2015

Double Falls Water Feature for Portland LandscapingWhen working with a landscaping contractor on a design or build project, it’s important to ensure the proper municipal permits are in order. Every city has its own unique permitting requirements. In our area, landscape building permit requirements in Hillsboro and Portland share many similarities, but there are also important code differences between the two cities. If new construction fails to meet city code, several problems could ensue. First, new construction could be unsafe and harm people or the environment. Municipal building laws keep the public and our shared environmental assets safe by requiring minimum structural and environmental standards for construction. Second, if you decide to sell your house, the sale could be hampered by any non-permitted work done by unscrupulous landscapers in Hillsboro or Portland. Finally, when you do decide to bring your home up to code, the permitting fees are often doubled for work that wasn’t done properly the first time around. So filing the right permits saves you money in the long run.

In this post we review key considerations when building in Portland and Hillsboro. We will list and answer questions our Hillsboro landscapers often field from homeowners about building permits.

Portland vs. Hillsboro: Building Permits.

Finding out if you need a permit for your construction project is easy in Portland, as the city publishes a brochure that you can use to look up your exact project(s). The brochure covers exterior construction, plumbing, mechanical projects, electrical work, and more, for both residential and commercial construction sites. For more detailed information, you can also visit this page on Development Services and Permits in the City of Portland. Hillsboro also maintains an informative website on this topic; it provides answers to FAQs on Hillsboro landscaping and construction permits. There, you can review the current construction permitting codes adopted by the City of Hillsboro. Read on to learn which outdoor construction projects most often require permitting.

Retaining Walls. Let’s start with retaining walls because they often warrant permits. Retaining walls are popular features in the Portland/Hillsboro area, because they allow planting on uneven terrain. However, given the large amounts of winter rain we receive, retaining walls must be properly engineered. If a wall is not properly constructed, heavy, wet soil could cause a collapse.

portland landscaping retaining wallThe City of Portland requires a permit for any wall over four feet tall, but many people fail to realize is that this is measured from the bottom of the wall footing which is likely 12” below ground. So in reality, 3’ of height is a more realistic figure to work with if you don’t want to run afoul of city regulations. Also, be aware that different rules apply to multiple walls. Sometimes our customers assume they can get around the four-foot requirement by building two three-foot walls in a terrace fashion, one after the other. However, there are unique rules for such sequential retaining walls. Between the walls, Portland requires twice their height. So two three-foot retaining walls must be six feet apart. There are other considerations as well, such as the local slope, and the surcharge, i.e., the expected weight load of the wall (beyond the typical backfill). We suggest professional help and meticulous permitting for any slope steeper than 45 degrees.

If you are dealing with these situations, then an engineer (and permit) is required. Unfortunately, this is more costly than other aspects of landscape construction, but when you consider the need for safety, it makes sense to ensure that the job is done right. Landscape East & West partners up with several geological and structural engineers; we remove the burden of having to find one yourself. Safety is our number one concern, and we also help our clients by verifying that all the necessary permits are properly submitted. We invite you to learn more about our retaining wall design and build services.

Fencing. Fencing is a little more straightforward. In both Portland and Hillsboro, homeowners can build fences up to eight feet tall. However you do need a permit if the fence is over seven feet tall in Hillsboro, and over six feet tall in Portland. Fences with street frontage are usually limited to 3.5 feet tall. There are online fencing permit resources available for local residents. Information for Hillsboro is online at the city’s Land Use Application Fees & Forms site. Information for Portland regarding Fencing, Decks and Outdoor Projects is also available.

Portland Landscaping Patio SolutionDecks. Multiple permitting rules affect decks. In Portland permits are required for decks with a walking surface more than 30 inches above grade. Railings are also required if the deck is over 30 inches above grade. Railings must be 36 inches tall and able to withstand 200 lbs. of lateral pressure. Deck stairs also need a railing if they are over 30 inches tall, and stairs greater than 3 steps require a grab rail.

Covered structures also require additional permitting. In Hillsboro, a permit is needed for covered structures that are attached to the house and are greater than 200 sq. ft. In Portland, a permit is needed for any covering that attaches to a house. This needs to be done right because if a neighbor complains and it is not to code, you will have to take it down. Also beware the many homeowners’ associations (HOA) have specific requirements regarding covered decks that must be followed.

The Landscape East & West team specializes in the design and build of custom wood structures, from feces and decks to pergolas and patio covers. Plus, we can handle all permitting to ensure the job is done right.

Erosion Control. Erosion control of more than 400 square feet requires a permit. Call us for a free screening; we will be happy to tell you if your project needs a permit.

Irrigation. Irrigation does require permitting, mostly to ensure that contaminated water does not flow backwards into the water supply. Professional irrigation systems cannot be run from the main hose bib, but rather must be connected directly to the main water supply. Moreover, certified inspectors must test for backflow contamination. Once the system is installed it must be tested and certified each year. Technically homeowners can take this on themselves, but the process is complex and the error rate is high.

Basalt With Mortared CapRight of Ways. There are situations when the city will file a Right of Way on your property, which will prevent the homeowner from building in that area. It is also important to understand the rules governing setbacks. This is the distance from the property line where you are not allowed to build. Setback requirements vary from city to city, so check with your jurisdiction on this or get in touch with our team.

From the discussion above, it should be clear that working with intelligent Portland and Hillsboro landscape contractors saves you money. At Landscape East & West we can handle all permitting issues and, if a homeowner has an existing permit, we check to make sure it’s accurate (this can be the case if someone else did a poor job earlier). Once we are confident that we can do a safe job that accurately completes customer expectations we will move on. You can trust that we will do the job right, and handle any issues with permits in a professional, timely, and productive manner.

Contact us today. We can design and build the landscaping project of your dreams, and with all the correct permits in place.


Bjorn NordquistContributing author Bjorn Nordquist is the Sales Manager at Landscape East & West, Portland landscaping and design professionals. Learn more about Landscape East & West’s design/build services, including outdoor kitchens, pergolas, patio covers, and more.