Property Line and Fence Laws in Pennsylvania
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 01, 2017
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If good fences make for good neighbors, then it makes sense that a bad fence can be a source of friction between neighbors. In Pennsylvania, property line disputes are a common source of litigation. Whether it's a disagreement over the maintenance of a fence or tree branches crossing over into a neighbor's yard, disputes between neighbors can be difficult to solve. When you can't talk through your differences, you may need to turn to Pennsylvania's property line and fence laws.
Quick Look: Pennsylvania Property Line and Fence Laws
This chart provides a summary of key Pennsylvania laws relevant to property line and fence disputes.
|Doctrine of "Consentable Lines"||Boundary established by recognition and acquiescence:
|Local Fence Regulations||
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.
Fence Law in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania originally passed fence laws to contain wandering livestock and prevent property damage. These early fences were known as boundary fences because they marked the line between two properties. By the early 20th Century, many of the state fence laws were struck down. In 1997, the state Superior Court ruled that landowners who do not own livestock are exempt from sharing boundary fence and maintenance costs. In 1999, the court exempted residential landowners from sharing boundary fence costs if one of the neighbors neither wanted nor needed the fence. Settling boundary disputes and enforcing the remaining state fence law is left to county governments.
Trees Along Property Lines
A boundary line can may be marked by a tree. This boundary tree belongs to both neighbors equally, and neither can cut it down without the other neighbor's consent. The encroaching tree can be trimmed up to the boundary line. However, a neighbor must obtain permission to enter the tree owner's property, unless the limbs threaten to cause imminent and grave harm. If the entire tree is cut down, or the structural integrity or the cosmetic symmetry of a tree is destroyed, then the neighbor will be liable for damages.
Pennsylvania's Doctrine of Consentable Lines
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognizes the doctrine of "Consentable Lines" for settling boundary line issues between adjoining properties. Also known as boundary by consent or acquiescence, the doctrine allows property title to pass to the other owner where adjoining landowners establish a "mutually respected boundary either by mistake or dispute and compromise." The 21-year requirement can be met by adding time from one owner to his successor.
Establishing a consentable line by "recognition and acquiescence" requires:
- Each party has claimed the land on their side of the line as their own, and
- This occupation has occurred for the statutory period of 21 years
The doctrine of boundary by acquiescence (i.e., consentable lines) functions as a rule that tries to limit litigation after enough time has passed. For example, if a fence has been in place formore than two decades the court would accept that as evidence of "recognition and acquiescence" of a boundry line between properties.
Spite Fences in Pennsylvania
Sometime a fence is built for no other purpose than to harass a neighbor. This is commonly referred to as a spite fence. Although there is not a state spite fence law, such cases can be addressed under nuisance law principles. To prevail, a neighbor must typically prove the following elements:
- They own the land or have the right to possess it;
- The defendant acted in a way that interferes with the plaintiff's enjoyment and use of his or her property; and
- The defendant's interference was substantial and unreasonable.
Ordinances and Zoning Rules in Pennsylvania
Local governments have a lot to say about how and where you can install a fence. In addition to dictating the height or style of a fence, a local municipality may also institute laws about fence location and setback. For example, a 6-foot privacy fence may be acceptable in the backyard, but a shorter, more open fence may be required in the front. If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowner's association, there may be even more strict requirements.
Get Help From a Pennsylvania Real Estate Attorney
If you have an ongoing property line dispute with your neighbor, it may be time to hire a real estate attorney. Your lawyer will be able to file a lawsuit to allow the courts to decide the issue. Get started today by finding a Pennsylvania real estate lawyer near you.
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