Hundreds of single-family homes in Charlotte may have been built too close together and have air-conditioning units placed in the property setback, according to the city of Charlotte's planning department.
The city requires that single-family homes have open space on each side of a house, separating them from neighbors.
But in a number of new suburban subdivisions, the homes are squeezed so tight that air-conditioning units or decks are in the no-build zones.
The city made a cursory review of subdivisions after Rodney Lee, a homeowner in the Winget Pond community off Steele Creek Road, discovered three years ago his HVAC unit and deck spilled into his setback. The zoning for his house required at least 3 feet from his home to his property line, and his HVAC unit ended 1 foot from the end of his property, Lee said.
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The city has agreed to place a variance on Lee's property and others in his neighborhood with setback violations, absolving them and future owners of code violations.
But Lee is upset that city and county inspectors never caught the problem, and that the homebuilder, Ryan Homes, didn't expand the size of the lots to accommodate the homes. Lee believes the builder increased its profit by building homes that are too big for the lots.
“They should have built a smaller house or resized the lot,” said Lee.
After Lee complained, city officials tried to determine if the problem is widespread.
The city's planning department said in a June memo that “hundreds of properties” are affected. Multiple builders were responsible, and the problem was scattered throughout the city.
Jim Bartl, Mecklenburg's director of code enforcement, is responsible for inspections of homes while they are under construction. He said builders aren't required to get site plans for single-family homes under construction, so inspectors usually can't catch the problem before building starts.
He also said preconstruction site plans often don't show where the HVACs will be placed.
“I think the biggest problem is a lack of contractor understanding of what they can and can't do,” Bartl said. “We think information is the best answer. This is a tough one to catch in advance. Almost anytime you catch it, it's already in the wrong spot.”
Bartl said the city and county have discussed sending HVAC contractors an automatic notice about setbacks when they pull permits. HVAC units could be placed in the backyard, Bartl said.
Ryan Homes couldn't be reached for comment.
Lee and other Winget Pond homeowners have sued Ryan Homes and others involved in building the community, seeking financial damages. Their lawsuit has been dismissed.
Walter Abernethy, director of code enforcement for the city, said he doesn't plan on sending violation notices to all homeowners with setback problems.
“We'll have to look at this from a practical perspective,” Abernethy said.
Single-family homes often have different zoning, which can mandate different setback distances. If you are concerned whether your home, air conditioner, or deck has encroached into your setback, contact the city of Charlotte or code enforcement for more information.