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Property Line and Fence Laws in Iowa

Property owners know that life tends to go more smoothly if you get along with your next-door neighbors, especially if you share a fence or there are trees growing near the property line. Unfortunately, disputes between adjoining landowners are common enough that most states have passed laws governing these issues. Read on to learn more about fence laws in Iowa.

Iowa Property Line and Fence Laws

Like many other states, Iowa has passed statutes governing fences running along property lines. Iowa law is so specific on this issue, it even addresses fences made out of hedge, including how many times per year a boundary hedge fence must be trimmed back and how high the hedge can be. Iowa has also implemented a system for addressing boundary fence disputes through a tribunal of fence "viewers."

Some states also choose to regulate "spite fences," which are built for no legitimate purpose other than to annoy or harass a neighbor. While Iowa doesn't have laws specifically addressing spite fences, a spite fence could be found to be a "nuisance" under Iowa law and thus prohibited if it interferes with a property owner's ability to quietly enjoy their own property.

Tree Trimming Approaches

It's not unusual for neighbors to disagree about branches from a tree on one neighbor's land that reach into the airspace of the adjoining landowner's property. Some states have implemented statutes through the legislative process to address encroaching tree branches. Other states have developed applicable law through the courts. Over the years, U.S. Courts have developed four different approaches for dealing with tree trimming issues:

  • Massachusetts Rule: A landowner is only limited to the right of "self help" by trimming tree branches only up to the property line.
  • Virginia Rule: A variation on the Massachusetts rule, under this rule, the removal of the entire tree may be an option if the tree poses a risk of actual harm or imminent danger.
  • Restatement Rule: A landowner is required to control vegetation that encroaches upon adjoining land if the vegetation has been planted or is maintained by a person, but not if the vegetation is "natural."
  • Hawaii Rule: Living trees and plants are ordinarily not nuisances, but trees can become a nuisance when they cause harm or pose an imminent danger of actual harm to adjacent property.

Iowa follows the common law or "Massachusetts Rule" that gives property owners the right to "self help" by trimming encroaching tree branches on their side of the property line. A landowner can also dig up roots that grow onto their property.

The following chart provides more information about Iowa laws governing property lines, fences, and tree trimming.

Statutes and Caselaw

Boundary Fences: Iowa Code Sections 359A.1A and 359A.2

Spite Fences: Iowa Code Section 657.1

Tree Trimming: Harndon v. Stultz,100 N.W. 329 (Iowa 1904)

Boundary Fences

  • Adjoining landowners must build a partition fence and jointly maintain it if one owner makes a written request for a boundary fence.
  • Boundary fences made from hedge must be trimmed back twice per year, once in June and once in September, to within 5 feet of the ground (unless neighbors agree otherwise).
  • If disputes arise regarding boundary fences, property owners can submit the controversy to a "fence viewer" for a hearing on the issue.

Spite Fences

  • There are no Iowa laws specifically prohibiting spite fences.
  • However, an "obstruction to the free use of property so as essentially to interfere unreasonably with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property" can be considered a nuisance under Iowa law.

Tree Trimming

  • Iowa follows the common law "Massachusetts" rule, which states that a property owner has the right to trim encroaching tree branches up to the property line.
  • A property owner can also dig up encroaching tree roots that cross onto his/her property.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Property Line, Fence, and Tree Resources

Property Dispute in Iowa? Get a Free Initial Legal Review Today

If you're involved in a disagreement with a neighbor about a boundary line, fencing, or tree trimming issue, it's a good idea to understand your legal rights and remedies. A local and experienced real estate attorney can answer your questions and get involved to help you reach a satisfactory outcome. Get started today with a free preliminary legal evaluation about the facts of your dispute.

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