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Property Line and Fence Laws in Virginia

Disagreements with neighbors can be a real headache. It's not uncommon for neighboring property owners to disagree about issues like fences, the location of the property line, or overhanging tree branches. Virginia, like many other states, has enacted laws addressing these issues. Read on to learn more about fence and property line laws in Virginia.

Virginia Property Line and Fence Laws

Virginia has extensive statutes addressing boundary fences, also known as partition or division fences, which exist along a property line. Virginia law specifies property owners' obligation to build, maintain, and pay for boundary fences.

Some states have laws specifically prohibiting "spite fences" built for no legitimate purpose other than to annoy or harass a neighbor. Virginia law doesn't specifically prohibit spite fences; however, many Virginia towns and cities have zoning ordinances related to fences.

Tree Trimming Laws

In 2007, the Supreme Court of Virginia changed the law regarding tree trimming. The court confirmed that property owners have the right to "self help," meaning that you can, at your own expense, trim a neighbor's tree branches or roots that encroach onto your property. In the same case, the court held that a neighbor may have an action for nuisance if the encroaching tree causes actual damage to the property. The court noted, however, that an encroaching branch is not a "nuisance" merely because it throws additional shade, or drops leaves, fruit, or flowers onto a neighbor's yard.

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

Statutes and Case Law

Boundary Fences: Virginia Code Sections 55-317, 55-318, and 55-319

Spite Fences: Local Virginia fence ordinances

Tree Trimming: Fancher v. Fagella, 274 Va. 549 (2007)

Boundary Fence Rules

  • Adjoining landowners are obligated to build and maintain (at joint and equal expense) a division fence between their lands, unless one landowner decides to let their land lie open or the property owners agree otherwise between themselves.
  • If an existing border fence falls out of repair, either landowner can give notice to the other of the intent to repair the fence, and request one-half reimbursement.

Spite Fence Rules

  • Virginia has no specific laws prohibiting "spite fences" built merely to annoy a neighbor.
  • Landowners should review local zoning and building ordinances and obtain the appropriate permit before erecting any sort of fence.

Tree Trimming Rules

  • A landowner has the right to "self help" by trimming encroaching tree branches and roots up to the property line, at his own expense.
  • If actual damage is caused by encroaching branches or roots, the landowner has a right of action for nuisance.
  • Encroaching tree branches are not considered a nuisance merely because they cast shade, or drop leaves, flowers or fruit.

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 Virginia? Contact a Local Attorney

If you're a property owner in Virginia, it's a good idea to understand how laws related to fences, property lines, and trees affect you. If you're not seeing eye-to-eye with a neighbor about any one of these issues, an experienced attorney can help you understand your legal remedies and make an informed decision about how to move forward. Consider calling a Virginia real estate lawyer near you.

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