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Fencing on Property Line: Who Pays for and Maintains It?

An old Robert Frost poem goes, "good fences make good neighbors." But what happens when fences cause neighbors to disagree? What happens when a fence is built on the boundary line of two adjacent properties? Which of the property owners pays for the fence?

Everything from zoning laws to complicated legal ideas like adverse possession can impact who pays for a barrier built on a property boundary when that barrier is on a shared property line. In many jurisdictions, this is called a "partition fence." It's loosely defined as a fence located on the division line between two adjoining properties.

Property line disputes can emerge under these circumstances. This article breaks down the basics you'll need to know. Understanding a bit more about this area of real estate law can help you figure out how such situations are handled. If you need more help after reading this article, consulting with a lawyer might be a good idea. You might need to work with a licensed real estate attorney.

Who Pays for and Maintains a Partition Fence?

Local fence laws determine who is responsible for paying for and maintaining partition fences. State laws can also affect cost-sharing. So, it's important to check your state and local ordinances.

That said, in most jurisdictions, both property owners must equally pay for the cost of the fence. They must also maintain a fence that runs on or close to a property line. Knowing this is important, as it can prevent fence disputes.

It doesn't matter what type of fence is in question. Examples of fences include:

  • Line fences
  • Chain link fences
  • Fences with barbed wire

Costs of maintaining a fence can include landscaping costs, as well. This might not be intuitive. So, keep this in mind.

Equal cost-sharing is typically required, even if one neighbor made a unilateral decision to erect the fence. Both neighbors are on the hook for the cost and maintenance of a partition fence because it's assumed that both neighbors benefit from the fence.

In practice, this means that if Neighbor A decides to build a fence on the property line shared with Neighbor B, Neighbor B generally has to pay for half of it. Additionally, Neighbor B is responsible for maintaining the fence (and yard that leads up to the fence) on their side. If the fence is damaged or needs replacement, generally, both Neighbor A and Neighbor B must pay for repairs or replacement 50/50.

Unfortunately, the laws in many areas don't go much further beyond the rule that both property owners must pay for and maintain boundary fences equally. So, it's up to the neighbors to work out details such as how much notice Neighbor A has to provide Neighbor B before erecting a fence, what kind of fence should be erected, or whether a fence is in both parties' budgets.

If your home is located in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), the bylaws may provide guidance about fence maintenance or a mediation clause to resolve any disputes. Sometimes, unfortunately, you and your neighbor may be left to sort out the details in small claims court.

You may have additional guidance if you happen to live in California or another area with a more detailed ordinance. For example, California Civil Code 841, also known as the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013, provides extensive protocol on paying for and maintaining boundary fences, including: "Where a landowner intends to incur costs for a fence, the landowner shall give 30-days prior written notice to each affected adjoining landowner."

Mediation or an Attorney Can Help Resolve Disputes

If you are involved in a dispute with a neighbor about paying for, maintaining, or repairing a fence that separates your properties, you may want to consider mediation or contacting a real estate attorney in your area to help you resolve the issue.

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