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Fencing Laws and Your Neighbors: FAQs

Fencing Laws and Your Neighbors: FAQ

Fencing laws and neighborly disputes can often be confusing. Property boundaries, aesthetics, and responsibilities among neighbors intersect. The laws and legal issues that can arise from disputes related to fencing laws can be challenging to handle on your own. This article addresses frequently asked questions (FAQs) about fencing laws and your relationship with neighbors. This article gives clarity on the following matters:

  • Fence height limits
  • Maintenance of shared property boundaries
  • Aesthetics of fences
  • Enforcement of local ordinances

Any number of disputes related to fencing can arise between neighbors. Perhaps your neighbor has built a new fence blocking your view of the beautiful mountain next to your property. Or maybe you and your neighbor are considering building a shared fence or partition fence. Perhaps your neighbor has created safety issues by building a fence with barbed wire.

Adjoining landowners might have boundary disputes, including fence disputes. Whatever your unique circumstances, knowing how to handle issues related to this area of real estate law is essential.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

In many disputes related to fencing laws, the following questions come up:

What are fence height limits?

Local laws, such as zoning ordinances, vary on how they limit artificial fence heights. Generally, each side of the fence may have a limit of 4 to 6 feet, depending on the property's location. Fencing laws can affect adjoining landowners and how a neighbor's property is developed. These laws touch on adjoining properties and actual boundaries, including where front yards begin and end. They may become law through:

Some fencing laws may apply to natural fences like trees or bushes on one's own property. Natural fence height limitations are more generous and may vary from 5 to 8 feet.

A fence that violates local fencing laws can remain in place under the following circumstances:

  • The fence was built before the law: If an existing fence violates new height regulations, in most cases, it can remain under the legal theories of "grandfathering" or "adverse possession."
  • variance applies: A person can apply for a one-time exception to the law if they intend to build a fence that violates a local ordinance.

Who handles the maintenance of a fence between two properties?

Boundary fences sit on the boundary line between two properties. Boundary or division fences must conform to fencing laws established by local ordinances and CC&Rs. Both property owners own the fence erected between the property lines when both use it. Every state interprets "use" differently. There are three main definitions:

  • Occupancy: Use of the land up to the fence
  • "Join" for use: The attachment of another fence to the boundary fence
  • Entire enclosure: The property owner's entire property is enclosed by the attachment of other fencing to the boundary fence

Most state laws or local ordinances cast responsibility for maintaining boundary fences on the owners who use the fence unless an agreement indicates otherwise. The law places responsibility on both parties because both enjoy the fence. So, both property owners must share the cost when a fence needs repair. If one party refuses to cooperate, the other party can do any of the following:

  • Write a letter to the neighbor explaining the problem with the fence.
  • Have the repair work done. Then, write a demand letter requesting payment from the neighbor.
  • Go to mediation.
  • If state or local laws offer a provision, request a "fence viewer" examine the fence and recommend whether the fence needs repair or whether the amount requested for repair is reasonable.
  • Sue the neighbor for reimbursement.

A neighbor constructed an unsightly fence that's inconsistent with the style of the surrounding neighborhood. Is the appearance of a fence subject to regulation?

Local fencing laws guide fence requirements, such as:

  • The height of a fence
  • How far an owner must set back a fence
  • The use of prohibited material
  • The maintenance of a fence
  • Dangerous fences

Subdivision CC&Rs often have provisions that regulate the appearance of fences. Restrictions on the type of material an owner may use and height regulations ensure design consistency throughout the neighborhood. If a property owner's fence violates a subdivision rule, the homeowners' association may ask the owner to make it conform. If the owner refuses, the association or a neighbor can sue to enforce the rules.

Sometimes, a neighbor may build an ugly fence out of spite for a neighbor. Many states have laws that regulate "spite fences." This is especially true when it gets built to annoy a neighbor and exceeds fence height limitations. Under these statutes, the neighbor may sue for its removal.

My neighbor's fence violates a local ordinance. How can I get the ordinance enforced?

The neighbor may be unaware of the ordinance, so telling the neighbor of the violation is important. If the neighbor refuses to make changes, notify the city of the violation. The city will send a written notification to the neighbor and request conformance. If the neighbor refuses to conform, the city can issue a fine and sue for compliance.

You may sue the neighbor in small claims court for the loss of enjoyment of your property, but this will not result in removing the fence. If you want the fence removed, a trial court judge can issue an injunction against the neighbor.

My neighbor constructed a fence on the property line, dividing the land. Do I have to pay for the fence?

The neighbor who built the fence owns it and is solely responsible for its maintenance unless the other neighbor decides to use it. Every state defines "use" differently (see above). But most laws are satisfied when a property owner encloses their property by using an existing fence. In many states, fencing laws require the neighbor to pay the other owner one-half of the fence's value.

Get Legal Help With Your Fencing Law Concerns

Poet Robert Frost famously said that good fences make good neighbors. Although fence issues may feel petty, they affect property rights, which are incredibly important. If you have questions or need to pursue legal action, a local real estate attorney can help you resolve your boundary issues with neighbors. They can give you the legal advice you need to succeed in your case.

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