Homeownership is a great tool to build wealth and establish a community, but disputes with your neighbors can taint it. Fencing is one of the most common things that neighbors disagree on, leading some to wonder if they have to discuss with their neighbor before building a fence.
You usually don’t have to tell your neighbor that you’re putting up a new fence if it’s constructed entirely on your property. However, if a fence is being built on the property line between you and your neighbor, then you’re typically required to inform them beforehand to avoid any legal disputes.
This article will cover the most pressing questions related to fencing, outline some common fencing etiquette and rules, and also discuss the proper steps to take before you start putting up a fence.
You’re Responsible for What’s Built on Your Land
For the most part, the majority of fencing regulations don’t require homeowners to notify their neighbors of a new fence.
The idea behind this is that it’s your property and your responsibility. Therefore, if you’re building it on your own property and plan to be solely responsible for its construction and maintenance, and it won’t interfere with your neighbors in any way, then there’s no reason to involve them.
In some jurisdictions, you may be required to serve them notice, particularly if the fence is being built on the boundary line between your homes.
It may also be necessary if the construction of the fence will require access to your neighbor’s property.
Can a Neighbor Stop You From Putting Up a Fence?
If you don’t get along with your neighbor, then you might be wondering if he can prevent you from putting up a new fence.
Your neighbor can’t stop you from putting up a fence on your property. However, problems may arise if you build a fence that’s non-code compliant or if you live in a neighborhood that’s managed by a Homeowners Association (HOA).
You can avoid any issues by getting approval from your city’s permitting department and checking with your HOA before proceeding.
It’s still important to mention that you may stir up some trouble with your neighbor though you may not incur any legal problems by building a fence around your home.
Can I Put a Fence Up in Front of My Neighbor’s Fence?
Instead of tearing down your neighbor’s fence, consider building a new one in front of his existing one.
If your neighbor’s fence is an eye-sore, isn’t secure, or if you’re surrounded by mismatched fences, then a new one is probably the best choice.
You can put up a fence in front of your neighbor’s fence, assuming that it’ll be within your property boundary. You should avoid installing a new fence that could obstruct your neighbor’s fence or property.
You should still make sure that you build the new fence a few inches away from your neighbor’s fence so that they aren’t touching.
By doing so, you may avoid a legal dispute. Keep in mind that the space between your new fence and your neighbor still belongs to you.
Therefore, you should still be maintaining it as normal.
Can I Replace My Fence Without Neighbor’s Permission?
If the fence has broken pickets and panels, or rotting boards, it may seem natural to want to replace the fence altogether, but it isn’t usually that easy.
You can’t replace your fence without your neighbor’s permission if the fence resides directly on the property line between your homes. This is because a fence that’s built on that line belongs to both neighbors legally, and by tearing it down, you’re breaking the law.
On the other hand, if it’s built within your property line, you can. But before doing so, you should get a land survey, which will detail the legal boundary between your home and your neighbor’s property.
The cost of a survey can vary depending on the size of the land. They typically start at $200 and can reach up to $1000 or more.
Do Both Neighbors Pay for a Fence?
Splitting the cost of a mutual fence with your neighbor seems like the most efficient, cost-saving solution.
There are some cases in which one neighbor isn’t responsible for any costs associated with the fence’s construction and maintenance.
Both neighbors are financially responsible for the building of a fence that resides on the property boundary. This is because both neighbors benefit from its construction. However, if it resides only on your property, then you’re 100% responsible for the construction and maintenance and vice versa.
This is why, though it isn’t necessary, it’s important to discuss the construction of a new fence with your neighbor before getting started. Setting expectations beforehand can be a great help later on.
Who Pays for Fence Repair Between Neighbors?
As fences age, they can succumb to natural wear and tear, and weather damages. Therefore, it’s crucial to recognize who should be paying for those much-needed fence repairs between neighbors.
Both neighbors are financially responsible for fence repair on the property line no matter which side the damage has occurred. It’s always a good idea to consult your neighbor before paying for fence repair yourself because if they refuse to pay their portion, you may have to take legal action.
Alternatively, if you take on sole responsibility for the repairs and/or maintenance of the fence, then you should check with your neighbor that you’ll be able to access their property in the event that you need to do so.
When Building a Fence, Who Gets the Good Side?
When building a fence, your neighbor should always get the good side.
Certain types of fences have both finished and unfinished sides. The finished side, or good side, is smooth and looks much more appealing than the unfinished side.
Your neighbor should get the good side, not only because it’s the neighborly thing to do, but also because it makes your home look better. It’s the standard way of building a fence so the finished side is outward facing.
Do I Have To Give My Neighbor the Good Side of the Fence?
You may prefer to keep the good side of the fence facing your home, especially if you don’t have neighbors surrounding every side.
You don’t have to give your neighbor the good side of the fence, and in most cases, there aren’t any laws stating that you have to build your fence with the finished side facing away from your home. However, some building codes do require that it be facing away, and it’s not optional.
Besides, building it the opposite way will look awkward in comparison to your neighbor’s home.
Also, it may also leave your neighbor to believe that you’re building a spite fence which is a tough offense.
If this is the case, then they may be able to sue you for being a nuisance. You can avoid this by building what’s called a ‘good neighbor fence.’
What Is a Good Neighbor Fence?
A good neighbor fence is one that looks identical on either side, meaning both sides of the fence are finished. These fences come in various designs that complement both homes’ exteriors and their adjacent landscapes.
The two most popular designs of good neighbor fences include:
- Board-on-board fences. The board-on-board style fence features a two-layer overlapping pattern of wooden boards, creating a gap in the fence. It’s a great option for privacy fencing and can be used for pools.
- Dog-eared fences. The dog-eared style fences are an inexpensive option for homeowners. It’s a traditional wooden fence with unique cuts at the top that resemble dog ears.
Check with your fencing company for their good neighbor designs.
How Do You Tell If a Fence Is Yours or Neighbor’s?
Many disputes between neighbors occur because they’re unable to decide who owns the fence.
You can tell if a fence is yours or your neighbor’s by getting a land surveyor. A land surveyor will inspect and measure your land to determine where it ends and where your neighbor’s land begins. By doing so, you’ll know whether it belongs to you, your neighbor, or both of you.
If the fence resides on the property line (boundary fence), but there’s still a dispute over who it belongs to, the fence owners can also be determined by usage.
If any of the following are true for you and/or your neighbor, then one or both of you’re the owners of the fence:
- Using the land up to the fence: Whoever uses or maintains the land that exists all the way up to the fence, on either side or both, owns the fence.
- Another fence is attached to the boundary fence: Whoever has at least one other fence on their property that’s attached to this fence is the owner.
- Boundary fence supports enclosure: If the boundary fence is attached to a group of other fences that come together to create an enclosure, that person is the owner of the boundary fence as well.
Can My Neighbor Hang Things on My Fence?
Regardless of which way the fence is facing, if the fence was built on your property, you own the sole right to hang things on the fence.
Your neighbor can’t hang things on your fence if you own it and they can’t make any changes to it either, including hanging anything on it without your prior consent. Your fence is deemed private property, so they shouldn’t be using it for the most part.
However, if it resides on the property line, your neighbor can hang things on it because they maintain joint ownership.
This is why it’s important to discuss boundaries with your neighbor. If you or your neighbor is new to the community, then it’s possible that they may have a different idea of where the boundary between the two properties lies.
Can My Neighbor Paint My Fence on His Side?
Even though you and your neighbor share the benefits of a fence, that doesn’t necessarily mean he can customize it as he wishes.
Your neighbor can’t paint your fence on his side without your consent if it resides on your property, whether or not it’s facing their home. On the other hand, if the fence is jointly owned, then legally, he can paint that side of the fence.
Though this is the case, it’s always best practice to notify one another before making alterations to the fences.
This is especially true when it comes to painting or staining the fence since it’s possible that it could bleed through to the other side.
What Counts as a Fence?
A fence isn’t limited to the traditional wooden pickets, panels, or railing you initially think of when you hear the word.
A fence can be a manufactured, traditional structure, or it can be any trees, bushes, and shrubbery that border and enclose your property. These natural barriers are important because they can also serve as unspoken boundaries between neighboring properties.
If your local fencing regulations do equate these to fencing, keep in mind that they’re also subject to the same fencing rules.
Local Authorities Determine Fencing Regulations
Fencing regulations can vary depending on where you live. So, the first step to take before building a new fence should always be to find out the fencing laws in your community.
This can be done with a quick online search or by calling your city’s permitting department.
Below are a few of the most common rights you have as a homeowner related to fencing.
Fence Height Limitations Help Prevent Blindspots
In most areas, it’s a standard requirement that your fence is no taller than six feet (1.83 meters) high in your backyard and no taller than four feet (1.22 meters) in your front yard.
This is because six feet (1.83 meters) is deemed sufficient to provide privacy. Also, having too tall of a fence in your front yard could decrease your neighbor’s visibility or could cause blind spots.
These requirements can also vary based upon where your house is located in your neighborhood. You can always file for an exception with your local permitting department.
Fence Placements Shift the Upkeep Responsibility
While some places allow you to build your fence right on the property line, others may require you to build it at least a couple of inches away from the line.
This could be 2, 4, 6, or 8 inches (5.08, 10.16, 15.24, or 20.32 centimeters) in some cases.
This way, the responsibility of the fence becomes yours alone, and you don’t need to consult with your neighbor.
HOAs Can Regulate the Appearance of Local Fences
City ordinances don’t dictate what the appearance of a fence should look like (i.e. material, stain, paint, etc.), yet some subdivisions or Homeowners Associations do.
This is to streamline the look and ensure that the community’s overall appearance is appealing. If you have an HOA, you must check with them before starting your project.
What Steps Should You Take When Building a Fence?
Putting up a new fence can be a frustrating endeavor if you and your neighbors aren’t seeing eye to eye.
Though you have the right to install a fence on your property, there are some things you can do before getting started.
You should take these steps when building a new fence:
- Get a land survey to determine the project size.
- Learn your local fencing regulations.
- Notify your neighbors.
- Contact a reputable fencing company o build it yourself.
- Plan for regular fence maintenance.
Following these guidelines will ensure the process is smoother for you and your neighbors.
1. Get a Land Survey to Determine the Project Size
Getting a land survey right away has many benefits:
- You’ll know just how much land needs to be fenced in, which will help you determine if this is a feasible investment.
- You’ll have peace of mind in knowing that you won’t be encroaching on your neighbor’s land.
- You’ll have physical proof of your land’s boundaries to provide in the event that a neighbor is upset by this new construction.
If your neighbor has a conflicting assumed boundary, you could opt for a boundary agreement. This is essentially a written document in which each of you agrees upon a set place where each property begins or ends.
2. Learn Your Local Fencing Regulations
You need to know the fencing regulations in your city.
By doing your research ahead of time, you’ll save yourself time and energy by not having to change your plans in the middle of the project or having to completely tear down the fence.
These regulations are typically set at the city or county level.
3. Notify Your Neighbors
Though you aren’t legally obligated to disclose your plans with your neighbors, in most circumstances, it’s always better to inform them rather than to surprise them.
This doesn’t mean that you need to tell them your design plans or any specifics; you should just let them know what to expect.
Aside from the fence itself, unexpected construction noise and trespassing construction workers could easily irritate unsuspecting neighbors.
4. Contact a Reputable Fencing Company
When building a new fence, the last thing you want to do is take shortcuts. Hiring a qualified fencing company will give you peace of mind in knowing that they’ll get the job done right.
If it ends up not being installed properly, you could be opening up a whole new set of issues with your neighbors.
Remember, because this fence will also partly border their property, it affects their property value as well. Not to mention, you and/or your neighbors will be out more money on repairs.
Lastly, a professional fencing company will ensure that your fence meets all local fencing regulations and will partner with you in building a fence that both you and your neighbors can be proud of.
5. Plan for Regular Fence Maintenance
If you build the fence inside of the property line, you need to be sure that you’re still taking care of the portion of your land outside the fence.
You should still be making sure that the grass is cut and that the area is well maintained and not leaving it to your neighbor.
Also, if your neighbor has an existing fence and your fence will create a strip of land between the two, you should talk to your neighbor about who will maintain that strip.
By neglecting any land that belongs to you, you run the risk of the following:
Claim Unfenced Land to Avoid Prescriptive Easement
If you install your fence inside of the property line, then there will be a thin strip of your property that still resides on the other side of your fence.
If your neighbor has access to this area and regularly use it, they may claim the legal right to use this land.
While you’ll still own the land, if they claim this right, you may not be able to expand the fence outward.
Unclaimed Land Can Lead to Adverse Possession
If you decide to stop using this portion of your property altogether and your neighbor solely uses it for a significant period of time (as little as 3 years or as much as 20), then it may be subject to adverse possession.
Adverse possession or squatter’s rights means that they may eventually claim legal ownership over that land. This is why it’s so important to continue using it.
Though you aren’t legally required to notify your neighbors of your plans for fencing, it may be essential in maintaining a working relationship with them.
However, if they happen to be uncooperative or unfriendly, you can carry on with your project successfully by ensuring you know the boundaries of your property, building your fence to code, and maintaining what you’re responsible for.
I hope this article was useful and keep in mind this is not legal advice.
Cheers, tools owners!