What Is a Zero-Lot-Line House?

Zero-Lot-Line Houses Explained in 4 Minutes or Less

Street view shows a row of nearly identical houses, each with porches and stairs landing on the walk in front.
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Paul Hamilton / Getty Images

A zero-lot-line house is one that maximizes land space for efficiency by butting right up against the edge of its property lines. You’ve probably seen a crowded housing development or two. Especially in locations where real estate is at a premium, you may have wondered how so many homes could have been squeezed in together. Let’s take a look at the definition of a zero-lot-line house, why we build them, and whether you’ll want to buy one. 

Definition and Examples of Zero-Lot-Line Houses

A zero-lot-line house is a home in which the structure is set at the property line. There are plenty of reasons for building these types of homes, not the least of which is that it allows for more homes to be built on a specific piece of land. Depending on local ordinances, your house may even be built along more than one property line.

  • Alternate name: row house, cluster home, patio home

Do I Need a Zero-Lot-Line House?

There are plenty of things to consider when moving to a new home. Space, location, and size are all important, especially when you have a family. 

Let’s say that you, your spouse, and your two children are searching for somewhere new to live. You already live in a large city, but your growing family needs more room to spread out. Unfortunately, your job can’t accommodate you working elsewhere—you still have to come into work and cannot be relocated. A zero-lot-line house may be a good option for you; these homes focus on maximizing space in areas where land is at a premium and can be more affordable than regular, single-family houses.

Zero-lot-line houses come in many different forms, including single-family homes, townhouses and duplexes, and “patio homes.”

Zero-lot-line homes often have little to no yard. In some cases, this could be a benefit, since you’ll have less to maintain. If you have children or pets, however, the lack of a yard could be a downside. 

Alternatives to a Zero-Lot-Line House

Although a zero-lot-line house may be a good option in some cases, it may not be a good fit for you. Fortunately, there are a vast variety of other homes that can suit your needs.

If cost is an issue, you may want to consider opting for an apartment or condominium rather than a zero-lot-line home, although you’ll experience less privacy when sharing walls. 

If you’re looking for outdoor space, searching for a single-family home could be a good option. Most homes come with a certain amount of yard and, depending on location, zoning laws prohibit lot sizes below a certain threshold.

In San Diego, California, zone boxes are assigned, which specify not only the uses permitted, but also lot size, density, height, building types, animal regulations, and other requirements.

Regardless of your needs, there are plenty of alternatives for homes—whether you’re searching in cities or more rural locations. 

Pros and Cons of Zero-Lot-Line Houses

Pros
  • Offer affordable housing in expensive areas

  • Situate homes so as to maximize space, both indoor and outdoor


Cons
  • Offer less privacy than standard-lot-line homes

  • Not available everywhere


Pros Explained

Offer affordable housing in expensive areas: Zero-lot-line houses are built for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is usually affordability. Smaller lot sizes allow for less expensive homes.

Situate homes so as to maximize space, both indoor and outdoor: Allowing a home to be built up to the property line means that your house can be larger than one that has deeper setbacks on the same sized lot. A home situated along a single property line can also result in more usable yard space; having 10 feet of yard along one side of your property can be more usable than five feet on either side.

Cons Explained

Offer less privacy than standard-lot-line homes: Because zero-lot-line houses are situated so close to the property line, you may experience a lack of privacy when living in one. This could be due to physically sharing a wall or simply having exterior walls very near to other houses.

Not available everywhere: Zero-lot-line homes may not be available everywhere. Local regulations will dictate this. Floor area ratio (FAR) is the maximum amount of square footage your home can have based on your lot size; local regulations may limit your home’s FAR.  

Key Takeaways

  • Zero-lot-line homes are built on or very near one or more of a lot’s property lines.
  • Homes built to, or very near, their lot lines can offer affordability when land space is at a premium.
  • Homeowners in zero-lot-line developments may not enjoy as much privacy due to the lack of space between structures.