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Property Line and Fence Laws in North Carolina

While they say good fences make good neighbors, anyone who has had a boundary dispute knows this is not necessarily true. It's common for neighbors to disagree on a number of issues, include property lines, boundary fences, and the trimming of trees near the property line. If you have encountered such problems, read on to learn more about fence laws in North Carolina.

North Carolina Property Line and Fence Laws at a Glance

In North Carolina, most of the laws requiring to fencing applies to landowners who own livestock. North Carolina is a "fencing-in" state, meaning that the owners of livestock are obligated to pen in their cattle, as opposed to some states in the western U.S. where cattle are allowed to graze freely and adjoining landowners who wish to exclude them must fence them out.

North Carolina fencing law doesn't require as much regulation of landowners who don't own livestock. Unless neighbors have an explicit agreement, fences can only be placed within the bounds of your own property. Adjoining landowners are free to jointly build and maintain boundary fences. It's a good idea to get any such agreement in writing and to make sure you understand all terms before signing.

North Carolina courts have developed law regarding "spite fences," which are defined as walls or fences that serve no beneficial use to the owner and are built solely to annoy a neighbor. These sorts of fences can be considered a nuisance if they shut out light and air from a neighbor's property.

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

Applicable Laws

Boundary Fence Rules

  • Unless adjoining landowners agree to place a fence along boundary, you can only erect fence within the bounds of your own property.
  • Neighbors can enter into a contract to maintain a boundary fence, but the agreement may not be enforceable against subsequent landowners without a restrictive covenant.
  • In North Carolina, landowners with livestock are required to fence in their property.
  • Landowners without livestock have no obligation to build boundary fence.
  • A neighbor has no obligation to share in the cost of building or maintaining a boundary fence.

Spite Fence Rules

  • A fence that serves no beneficial use to an owner and erected only to annoy a neighbor can be considered a nuisance.
  • North Carolina courts have found a fence to be a "spite fence" if it blocks a neighbor's air and light without serving any legitimate purpose.
  • If a wall is built to shield a landowner from objectionable noises, odors, or "unseemly conduct" on the neighboring land, a court is less likely to find it to be a nuisance.

Tree Trimming Rules

  • It's a misdemeanor to enter the land of another and damage or injure another person's trees, plants, or crops.
  • A landowner is generally not liable for healthy tree limbs that fall on a neighbor's land due to a natural occurrence or Act of God.
  • A neighbor is entitled to trim encroaching tree branches up to the property line.

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

Consider Lawyering-Up for Your North Carolina Property Dispute

In an ideal world, neighbors could coexist peacefully; but the unfortunate reality is that disagreements with neighbors are extremely common. If you and your neighbor are not seeing eye-to-eye about property lines, fences, or trees, you understand first-hand how stressful the experience can be. Consider getting help from an experienced North Carolina real estate attorney, who will explain your legal rights and outline your options going forward.

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