Exterior Installations and Alterations

Forest Hills yards with patios.

How to Spruce up Your Yard

Summer dreams come true with good planning! Many members take advantage of their outside areas for cultivation, relaxation, and privacy. This kind of investment makes the property more beautiful for everyone, so don't hesitate to call us for guidance! But, before you get started, make sure you understand the following rules which have been established to keep both our members and our property safe.

Personal Domain

The areas you are allowed to enhance are referred to as your personal domain. Depending on the type of unit you have, your Membership Agreement may include additional information. But, generally speaking, use the following guidelines to determine the boundaries of your personal domain:


In both the front and back, the width of your yard is defined as the full-width of your unit. Specifically, it's the distance between the interior-wall shared with your neighbor on the left and the interior-wall shared with your neighbor on the right. If you are on an end unit, use the exterior side-wall as the boundary for your unit's width.

Front Yard

The length of the personal area in the front of your unit begins at your front wall and extends all the way to the sidewalk bordering the parking lot. If this space overlaps with another unit, as may occur with corner units, use the dimensions laid out in your Membership Agreement to determine the correct boundaries.

Back Yard

In the rear of your unit, the length of your personal domain extends 20 feet from your rear wall. If you live in a corner unit with two side yards, instead of a single backyard, your personal domain is bound by the edges of your neighbors' yards. This generally will allow members with corner units to maintain a personal domain that extends 14 feet from each side wall, with about a foot and a half of additional width. Forest Hills staff can help you determine the precise area for your corner unit.

Fence, Patios, and Decks

To get started on your fence, patio, or deck, follow these steps:

  1. Submit Your Proposal
    • Save yourself time and headaches by reviewing Ann Arbor's residential zoning rules at City of Ann Arbor's Zoning Administration  first. There, you'll find the city's required specifications for various installations, as well as how much your permit will cost.
    • Before you begin construction on any installation or alteration, you must complete a Forest Hills Exterior Installation Permit form and obtain tentative approval from the office.
      • This permit is requested to protect you and the other members in your building by ensuring that any major alteration is done by a licensed and insured contractor, and to also inform you of the precautions and possible consequences of your planned alteration.
      • Failure to submit an Exterior Installation Permit prior to construction may result in the removal of your installation—at your expense.
      • Include with your Exterior Installation Permit, all specifications, as well as drawings (or other imaging) to communicate your proposed alteration.
      • Members with alterations involving digging must call Michigan’s utility safety notification system, MISS DIG, at 800-482-7171, prior to beginning the alteration. Technicians from MISS DIG will come out and mark any underground lines for you. Visit MISS DIG to learn more.
    • All Exterior Installation Permits are subject to Board approval.
    • Depending on your project, office staff may require additional information from you or your contractor.
  2. Measure Your Area
    • Overall dimensions may not exceed the width or length of your personal domain. Please contact the office for help determining those boundaries if you are not sure.
    • Your fence, patio, or deck, may enclose all or part of your personal domain, but may not extend beyond it.
    • A two-foot bed extending around the outside of the fence/patio/deck area must be maintained by the member to facilitate the grounds crew.
    • A zone of at least 3 feet must be maintained around any electric meters, telephone boxes, trees, bushes, or other obstructions. Certain types of obstructions may be enclosed within the fence/patio/deck area. Include those special design proposals in your Exterior Installation Permit application.
  3. Specific Installations
    • Fences Diagram of slat fence.
      • All fences must be made with Wolmanized pressure-treated lumber in accordance with AWPA  (American Wood Preservers Association) standards. Please consult the AWPA Standard U1  web page for more information.
      • Fences may not be painted, stained, or otherwise colored. The lumber must retain the natural appearance of wood.
      • Forest Hills prefers that lumber for fences should be cut to the following dimensions:
        • Posts: 4x4 feet
        • Frames: 2x4 feet
        • Slats: 1x6 feet
        Please see the City of Ann Arbor's Fencing Guidelines  for more information about fencing requirements.
      • Gates must also be made of treated wood and must be of the same construction and appearance as the fence.
      • Gates must be easily opened from the outside.
      • If a lock is used, a key must be left with the office.
    • Bush or Hedge Enclosures
      Due to the damage roots of bushes can cause to our buildings, we are not allowing any new plantings of bushes or hedges. Removal of bushes that have already been planted is unnecessary unless you are notified.
    • Patios
      • Patios may be constructed from a variety of materials. The Board will review each patio Installation Permit individually to determine if the materials are acceptable.
      • Poured cement patios are not allowed.
    • Decks
      • As with fences, all decks must use Wolmanized, treated lumber.
      • Decks may not be painted, stained, or otherwise colored. The lumber must retain its natural wood appearance.
      • Decks may only be installed in the rear of your unit.
  4. Get Final Approval
    • Once your proposal has been accepted, the Forest Hills office will provide you with a Tentative Letter of Approval.
    • Many installations, such as fences, require a City of Ann Arbor permit. The City of Ann Arbor will need you to submit your Tentative Letter of Approval from Forest Hills. The cost of a permit varies, depending on the nature of your project. Expect to pay a minimum of $25.00.
    • Once your project is approved, you will have 30 days to complete the work.
    • Forest Hills staff will inspect your finished project for final approval.
  5. Maintain Your Installation
    • Members are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their installations, as well as the surrounding area, and the enclosed space.
    • The areas in and around your installation must be kept neat and clean at all times.
    • No outside structures, dog houses, storage, etc., may be kept within, outside of, or on top of, your installation.
    • Failure to maintain your personal domain and/or installations in accordance with these rules will result in a notification from Forest Hills outlining the problem and how you can resolve it. You will have 10 days following that notice to either perform the required work or request an appeal before the Board of Directors. If you do not respond within those 10 days, maintenance staff will perform the work and charge you accordingly.

Cultivated Areas and Gardens

By submitting an alteration request members may cultivate their personal domain areas within the following guidelines:

  1. The dimensions allowed for planting differ from those established for decks, patios, and fences. Areas in your personal domain that can be cultivated include:
    • 6 feet from the back wall of your unit, including borders
    • 4 feet from the sidewall of an end unit, including borders
    • 5 feet from the front wall of the unit, regardless of the existing plants or steps
    • 2 feet past the edge of a shared, covered front porch, and between the steps on each end of that porch
    • 10 inches out from each side of the walkway to your unit
    • The entire area enclosed by the branches of a split-walkway and a shared front porch
  2. No vines that crawl up buildings.
  3. No invasive plants.
  4. While it is legal to grow cannabis in Michigan, as a HUD property, Forest Hills must comply with Federal law, which prohibits growing cannabis plants.
  5. No trees or bushes that can eventually grow to a tree-size.
  6. Members are encouraged to be mindful of curious children who may be tempted to taste berries or other fruits when adults aren't looking. Please be aware of the toxicity of any fruits or berries growing in your garden and take proper safety measures.
  7. If planting edible items in your garden, be aware that you will likely attract animals, some of which are noxious or threatening, such as skunks. Please consider planting food crops at our shared community garden, instead.

Removing Your Installation

While the expense and effort members put into their additions and installations are greatly appreciated, there are situations in which members may be required to remove their installations. Please be advised that:

  1. All installations are permitted at the discretion of the Board of Directors, and are subject to removal, at the member's expense.
  2. Requirements for installations are established by the Board of Directors and are subject to change. Members are responsible for ensuring their installations conform to any such changes, whether those changes are announced or not.
  3. Upon moving out of the co-op, your installation must be approved, in writing, by the incoming member, using a form provided by the office.
  4. If the incoming member does not approve of your installation, you must remove it and return the area back to its original condition. If you are unable to do this, Forest Hills staff will perform the work, and you will be charged accordingly.
ATTENTION: This form is not currently accepting submissions due to a technical problem. We are aware of the problem, and are working to fix it. We thank you for your patience!

Download a PDF of the Installation Alteration Permit