A distance from a curb, property line, or structure within which building is prohibited.
Setbacks are building restrictions imposed on property owners. Local governments create setbacks through ordinances and building codes, usually for reasons of public policy such as safety, privacy, and environmental protection. Setbacks prevent landowners from crowding the property of others, allow for the safe placement of pipelines, and help to preserve wetlands. Setbacks form boundaries by establishing an exact distance from a fixed point, such as a property line or an adjacent structure, within which building is prohibited. Generally, prospective buyers learn that land is subject to setback provisions when they are considering purchasing it. This information is important to future development plans, because setbacks remain in effect until changed by law or special action of a local government.
Setbacks can significantly affect a property owner's right to develop land or to modify existing structures on the land. For this reason they can influence property values; severe restrictions on land can decrease its value. Violating setback provisions can lead to legal action against a property owner, and penalties can include fines as well as an order to remove noncompliant structures. Property owners whose desire to build is stymied by setbacks have few remedies. They can petition their local government by applying for a variance—a special permission to depart from the requirements of zoning ordinances—but variances are generally granted only in cases of extreme hardship. Litigation over setbacks is common.