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When are fences legally required for pools?

Swimming pools are regulated at the state and local level, usually under building codes. The specific requirements will vary from one location to another. The International Building Code may offer a general guide to building requirements, since every state in the U.S. has adopted it to some extent. A related code, the International Swimming Pool and Spa Code (ISPSC), gets more specific about swimming pools.

The ISPSC defines several different types of pools. It separates "residential swimming pools" into groups based on whether they are suitable for a diving board. The rules regarding safety barriers, however, only distinguish between indoor and outdoor pools, regardless of size. Section 305 states that a fence or other barrier is required around every outdoor in-ground pool, no matter the depth. Pools that are only partially below ground count as in-ground pools.

Above-ground pools need a fence or barrier when they exceed a certain depth. The exact depth requirement varies, but it is usually around 18 to 24 inches. A permanent swimming pool could be exempt from fence requirements if it has a "powered safety cover" that complies with the standards published by the American Society for Testing and Materials. 

Temporary pools, including inflatable pools and plastic "kiddie pools," do not usually need a fence.

If my entire property is fenced, does the pool need a separate fence?

Swimming pools do not necessarily need a barrier close to the water. If your pool is located in a fenced backyard, or other large fenced area, and that fence meets the legal requirements, you might not need an additional barrier closer to the pool. The ISPSC allows walls, buildings, and even natural features like "mountains and natural rock formations" to serve as barriers to a swimming pool.

Can I be fined for not having a fence around my pool?

The government body that enforces building code compliance in your area may assess penalties if you do not have a barrier as required by law. The process typically begins with a warning and an opportunity to correct the violation. If you do not install a fence within the time allowed, you could face a fine of anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

What happens if someone gets hurt at or around my pool?

Property owners may have a legal duty to keep their property reasonably free of hazards. They can be legally liable for injuries to people on their property. This can include people you hire to work on or near your pool, people you invite over for a swim, and even trespassers. If you rent your property to others, it includes your tenants and their guests.

You might be able to limit your risk of liability with an Independent Contractor Agreement for people working at your property. For rental property owners, a Property Manager Agreement could put your property manager in charge of pool safety and monitoring for potential hazards on the property.

A swimming pool can be considered a "hazard" all by itself because of the high risks of a slip and fall on a wet pool deck, or drowning. A pool with no fence or barrier could be considered an "attractive nuisance," meaning something that might attract people, especially children, onto a property without permission to be there. This means you could be liable for injuries to trespassers if you have no fence or an ineffective fence.

Can I require a Release of Liability to use my pool?

You can ask anyone who goes in or near your pool to sign a Hold Harmless Agreement, also known as liability waiver. This can protect you from being sued for many types of injuries, but you might still be liable for injuries caused by particularly dangerous conditions. While it may be a bit awkward to make your guests sign something before swimming, using RocketSign® makes it easy to do in only a few minutes with just a smartphone.

To learn more about your obligations if you have a swimming pool on your property, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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