The Responsibility of Neighbors on Fences
The responsibility of neighbors regarding fences varies by local statutes, personal arrangements and homeowners association rules. Common sense indicates you want to be on good terms with neighbors. Sometimes tensions arise when issues about a mutual fence are viewed differently by each neighbor. When divergent viewpoints come up, work to find a mutually satisfactory compromise. If this is not possible, look at the legal ramifications involved to see what your rights and responsibilities are.
Fences on Property Lines or Inside Property Lines
If the fence in question is on the property line between your property and your neighbor's, both parties have responsibilities for its maintenance and replacement. If the fence is inside either person’s property boundary, the issue becomes more complex. It may be a shared boundary indicator, but not necessarily a shared fence. Does either party have an adjoining line of fence? If so, this may be a shared fence even though it is not on the exact boundary between properties. For example, if the fence is on your property but your neighbor has a fence abutting or adjoining it and your fence makes up one length of his fenced yard, you are sharing the fence. This arrangement may predate your ownership of the property. Nevertheless, you are obligated to let him continue to use the fence as a perimeter for his property. If the fence needs to be replaced, you can ask your neighbor to share the expense involved in the portion of fence he uses.
Sharing Maintenance or Replacement Costs
Suppose the fence between you and your neighbor needs repairs. Discuss with your neighbor what you consider to be the needs and steps to take for repair before you begin the process. Make a plan that is agreeable to both parties. You could both work on it, or hire the job out and split the costs. All arrangements and costs should be understood beforehand. After you have repaired or replaced the fence, it’s too late to ask your neighbor to share costs since you have proceeded on your own. This is especially important if the fence needs to be replaced. A bigger chore means more expense as well as changes in the appearance of the fence. Avoid trouble by talking to your neighbor and making joint decisions.
A less common occurrence is a neighbor building a fence that is excessive in height, ugly or has no purpose other than to annoy her neighbor. Many states have laws regarding “spite fences.” These fences are usually constructed when friction exists between neighbors and the one constructing the fence builds it to antagonize her neighbor. The offended neighbor can petition for a court-ordered injunction for removal or modification of the fence. For instance, if your neighbor constructs an abnormally tall fence which obstructs your view, you can legally request it be removed or the height reduced. If you are unsure if the neighbor is intentionally trying to annoy you, speak to her directly and request the fence be lowered or otherwise suitably modified. If this fails, you may need to seek legal alternatives.