The meaning of setback is the minimum open space required around any building or structure. Municipal regulations of a State provide a specific distance that should be maintained between a building and the boundary of the plot on which the building is being constructed. The setback distance is necessary to ensure that the structure stays away from roads, water bodies, or other buildings. Setback areas in buildings are required at their front, rear, and sides, and the specifications vary from one area to another.

What is a setback in buildings?

A building setback is the minimum amount of open space surrounding a building that must be maintained. The government mandates a minimum setback distance for the construction of every building. It is necessary to keep a certain distance between the new construction site and any existing structures. Maintaining this distance prevents the structure from being close to highways, watercourses, or other structures.

Types of setback in buildings

Three kinds of building setbacks are considered when constructing a house, and these are:

  • Road side margin: It refers to the space offered in front from the edge of the road side to the building.
  • Side margin: It means the space offered on every other side of the building.
  • Rear margin: Rear margin refers to the space offered from the rear or back edge of the building.

What is the importance of a setback in buildings?

Setback plays an integral role in any residential building due to the below reasons-

  • To ensure adequate natural light
  • To ensure sufficient ventilation
  • To protect entities, such as water bodies located close to a building from being adversely affected by the construction and human inhabitation
  • To protect one building from the shadow of another, which would otherwise obstruct the provision of ventilation and sunlight
  • To protect buildings from noise-causing elements, such as nearby industries, airports, or highways
  • To ensure easy access to the buildings

Simply put, the purpose of setbacks is to ensure one building does not infringe on another building’s right to sunlight, ventilation, greenery, and vehicular access. Seamless passage for vehicles is extremely important as rising building density makes it harder for emergency services, such as fire engines to move around during a mishap.

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How to measure the setback in buildings?

As the concept of setback distance is not uniform across building types and States, here are the steps to be followed while calculating the same:

  • Find out the setback rules of the State. These official documents are generally available on the State government’s website
  • Identify the building line on your property
  • Measure the height of the structure
  • Next, measure the widths of the side, front and rear setbacks needed
  • Check the distance of the building from the nearest road and building
  • Identify the open sides of the property, whether it has one or multiple open sides
  • Check the No Objection Certificates (NOC) of the property for clarity

Purpose of setback in buildings for residential usage

A building setback ensures that all structures in a given area receive adequate natural light and are not obstructed by other structures. The system ensures adequate ventilation while maintaining superior air quality. This protects aquatic environments and natural reserves from the construction process and its occupants. Lastly, it ensures that the building is accessible to all.

Factors influencing the rules of setback in buildings in India

Alok Bhasin, Architect, and Interior Designer explain that every city and different areas in one city can have diverse rules concerning setbacks for buildings. As per him, “What might be stipulated for a plot in Rajouri Garden might differ from the requirements of a plot in Greater Kailash. Similarly, Gurgaon will have different setback dimensions compared to Delhi.” The implementation of the building bye-laws will primarily depend on the following factors:

  • Size of the plot
  • Whether it is a one-side or multi-side open plot
  • Locality or neighbourhood where the plot is located
  • Width of the road on which the plot is located
  • Maximum permitted coverage area in the locality

Bhasin explains further that if a plot has two open sides, say, a road in the front and a service lane at the back, it will be called a two-sided open plot. Such a plot will have different setback requirements as compared to a one-sided open plot, where the possibility of receiving light and air is limited to just one side. If the adjoining road is wide, then the setback requirement will be different too. “The better the location and the larger the plot size, the larger the setback requirement,” comments Bhasin.

For example, the setback for a residential 40x60 site or 2,400 sq ft in Bangalore, as per the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the construction must leave around eight percent on all three sides, and about 12 percent towards the roadside.

Requirements for setback in buildings in Bangalore

To explain the concept better, setback requirements for Bangalore as mentioned on Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s (BBMP) website are listed below:

Height of buildingSetbacks (front, side and rear) in m
Above 9.5 m and up to 12 m4.5
Above 12 m up to 15 m5
Above 15 m up to 18 m6
Above 18 m up to 21 m7
Above 21 m up to 24 m8
Above 24 m up to 27 m9
Above 27 m up to 30 m10
Above 30 m up to 35 m11
Above 35 m up to 40 m12
Above 40 m up to 45 m13
Above 45 m up to 50 m14
Above 50 m16


Requirements for setback in buildings in Delhi

Similarly, minimum setbacks (applicable unless specified otherwise) prescribed by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) based on the size of plots are listed below:

Plot size (in sq m)Front setbackRear setbackSide setback (1)Side setback (2)
Below 1000000
Above 100 and up to 2503000
Above 250 and up to 5003330
Above 500 and up to 20006333
Above 2000 and up to 100009666
Above 1000015999
Additionally, buildings over 15 m in height are required to have a setback of 6 m around the building to receive the No Objection Certificate (NOC) from Delhi Fire Service.

Requirements for setback in buildings in Chennai

Abutting Road WidthFront setback
Up to 9 m1.5 m
Above 9 m to 18 m3 m
Above 18 m up to 30.5 m4.5 m
Above 30.5 m6 m
Source: Secondary source

Requirements for setback in buildings in Pune

According to the Development Control and Promotion Regulations for Pune Municipal Corporation, following are the requirements for front setback as per the height of buildings:

Front setback requirements for buildings in Pune
Height of buildingsFront setback
Above 18 m and up to 24 m4.5 m (6 m for mixed-use residential)
Above 24 m and up to 36 m6 m
Above 36 m and up to 50 m9 m
Above 50 m and up to 70 m12 m
Above 70 m and up to 100 m14 m
Above 100 m16 m

Source: Pune Municipal Corporation

Side and rear setback in buildings

The side and rear setbacks determine the location of houses and ancillary outbuildings, such as sheds or a garage on a residential plot. Side setbacks are evaluated by the width of the lot, measured at the building line, and by the height of the building. At the time of calculation, the height of the building is taken at the closest point to the boundary and not the overall height of the building. For rectangular lots, side and rear setbacks are measured from the property boundaries.

Note: If the average width of the plot is 10 m and the G+2 structure is developed, then a side setback is not essential.

Variances in the setback in buildings

In case you face hardships due to setback requirements, which the owners nearby do not face, you may get a variance, i.e. the permission to encroach the setback. To get the variance, the property must be shaped in a way that limits where you can build it. Moreover, the shape must be unique to your land. If the majority of properties in your area share the same predicament, you will not qualify for a variance. So while buying or constructing a property, it is important to be familiar with the term ‘setback’ to ensure that the plot is utilized appropriately.

Can violating the rules of setback in buildings affect property transfers?

When buying a home that has been newly constructed, it is imperative to check if the setback is as per the regional norms. If you invest in a home without checking this, you may end up losing the property, as the issuing authority may not grant a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) to such property.

Creative ways to use setback in buildings

Though various regions have different restrictions regarding the usage of setback in buildings, the following creative ideas are usually allowed by all States:

  • Edible gardening: Use vertical gardening techniques and make the most of the lean strip of setback around your building.
  • Kids’ activity area: Turn it into an activity area for kids by hanging a portable swing or use it as a cycling track. In fact, you can use this space cleverly to make way for multiple kids’ activities.
  • Add a portable barbecue setup: There is no denying that a portable barbecue setup outside the house is useful but needs considerable maintenance. So, if you are ready for that kind of commitment, go ahead and get it installed.

The concept of setback is one that must be adhered to by developers and scrutinised by buyers to prevent running into any discrepancies with the local authorities. By doing the due diligence, both buyers and developers can ensure legal troubles in the future.