Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

The City of Portland, Oregon

Development Services

From Concept to Construction

Phone: 503-823-7300


1900 SW 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97201

More Contact Info

Subscribe to RSS feed

Most Recent

View Less

Townhouse Design and Construction - Requirement Clarification and Changes

City of Portland, Bureau of Development Services


Contact:  Ross Caron, Bureau of Development Services 503.823.4268

Effective September 2, 2014.  The Bureau of Development Services (BDS) seeks to provide clear direction to its customers, and to be in compliance with the Oregon Residential Specialty Code (commonly referred to as State Building Code); therefore, BDS is providing this notification regarding Oregon Residential Specialty Code requirements affecting townhouse design and construction. 

BDS will no longer allow more than one single family dwelling per townhouse. 
Per the Oregon Residential Specialty Code (ORSC), a “townhouse” is defined as “a single family dwelling unit in a group of three or more attached units in which each unit extends from foundation to roof and with a yard or public way on at least two sides.”

From approximately 2009 to September 2014, BDS accepted other configurations. It was brought to our attention this previous code interpretation might be in error.  After review by the BDS Building Official Group it was determined that a townhouse is one single family dwelling. The Bureau regrets any inconvenience this revised interpretation may cause, however, moving forward BDS will no longer allow more than one single family dwelling per townhouse. This change will allow BDS to be in compliance with the ORSC definition of a townhouse. BDS will continue to allow two family dwellings in a side-by-side configuration to be built to either townhouse standards ORSC section R302.2, with the dwelling units separated by fire rated construction meeting townhouse criteria, or to the two-family dwelling standard ORSC section R302.3. BDS will also continue to allow a townhouse to be constructed with an Accessory Dwelling Unit as part of it.

BDS is emphasizing the need for a minimum 3 foot wide access and egress easement crossing adjacent lots for emergency access in some situations.
In addition, BDS is calling attention to ORSC section R310.1 regarding egress windows from bedrooms and basements. This code section contains the provision that “Emergency escape and rescue openings shall open directly into a public way, or to a yard or court that opens to a public way.” Requiring this access and egress easement is one means to be in conformance with the ORSC.

This code provision has a significant impact on townhouses on individual lots which are not located on through-lots (alley or street on front and back). In this type of configuration, only street side bedrooms and bedrooms in the end townhouse structures would have access to the public right-of-way without crossing an adjacent property. Therefore, BDS will be requiring a minimum 3 foot wide access and egress easement crossing the adjacent lots in order to guarantee fire fighter access and provide a path away from the rear of the building bedrooms and/or basements to the public right of way. Fences may be constructed between the rear yards of individual townhouses; however, a 3 foot wide gate without locking hardware must be installed in the fence in order to provide egress across the yards.

For more information visit the Bureau of Development Services Development Service Center at 1900 SW 4th Ave, 1st floor, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday’s 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. or call 503-823-1456.