Fences are a common source of disputes between neighbors. These disputes tend to arise when neighbors have differing opinions as to the type of fence to put up. Cases of disputes relating to sharing costs of installing and maintaining boundary fences are also common. Therefore, before installing or replacing a fence on your property, it is always advisable to make sure that you are on the right side of the law.
You can replace a fence without permission if the fence sits on your side of the property line and the new fence is the same height and similar style. Although you d not need your neighbor’s permission, it is always good to inform, and sometimes even consult, your neighbor as this can prevent unnecessary conflicts and lawsuits.
Here is what you should know about boundary fences.
Yes, you should always speak to your neighbor first before replacing a dividing fence especially if it sits right at the boundary. This is because it shows goodwill and can thus prevent unnecessary conflict. And you should do so even if you are in the right and the law is on your side simply because it is good fence etiquette.
However, this is usually a courtesy as far as your fence is concerned, especially if it is sitting on your side of the property. If they disagree with your decision to make a replacement, you can still go ahead and replace it without any repercussions since it is your property.
But if it is the neighbor’s fence — especially if it sits on their side of the property — then speaking to them is mandatory. In such a case, it is their property and you have no right under the law to remove and replace it.
Do I need a permit to replace a fence?
In most areas, permits are not required before you can install a fence. Therefore, in such cases, you also won’t have to seek a permit before replacing the fence. However, your may need to get a permit if the fence that you are planning to build:
- Is taller than 1.8m (just over 6 feet) for a rear fence or 1.2m (about 4 feet)
- Next to a declared street or road
- Next to an intersection and has the potential to create blindspots
- Uses special materials
In some jurisdictions, especially those that are vulnerable to natural phenomena like cyclones, a permit is sometimes needed before one installs a fence in order to make sure that installations comply with fencing codes. In such areas, one typically needs a permit in order to replace an existing fence.
Who pays for a boundary fence?
Since the law considers boundary fences to be owned by both neighbors, they both pay for the boundary fence. This includes the cost of installing and maintaining the fence. And in most cases, they are supposed to share these costs equally — unless they entered into an express agreement that specified another form of cost-sharing.
However, it is common to find cases of some neighbors being uncooperative. They may not need the fence. They may also not prefer the style of the fence that the other neighbor is installing. And in some cases, they may just decide to be difficult.
In such cases where a neighbor is being uncooperative with regards to sharing costs, the other neighbor can simply proceed with the installation or maintenance. After they are done, they can then request the uncooperative neighbor to reimburse them for a share of the costs.
In order to improve the odds of getting reimbursed for part of the costs of putting up or repairing a fence, a homeowner is usually advised to take the following steps.
- Write to the neighbor explaining the need to set up the fence and the intention to actually do so.
- Hire a professional assessor to provide estimates for the actual installation or repairs and then inform the neighbor of the results.
- Take photographic, or video, evidence of the state of the fence before the repairs — in cases where you intend to file a claim for reimbursement of repair costs.
- Ask the neighbor to pay their share of the estimated expenses.
- If they don’t comply with your request, proceed to build the fence or repair it on your own. When doing so, always keep the receipts and a meticulous record of any expenses incurred.
- After completion of the project, write a demand letter to the neighbor
listing all the expenses incurred and requiring them to compensate you for part of the costs.
- If they don’t pay their share, you can then proceed to mediation.
- And if that doesn’t work, filing a court case is the next available option.
How high can I make my fence?
For a rear fence, you can make it as high as 1.8m (just above 6 feet) and for front fences, you can make them as high as 1.2m (about 4 feet). If you need to make the fence higher than the stipulated limits, then you will need a permit in order to do so.
However, it is important to note that these limits vary from place to place. There are areas where masonry fences have lower limits. Others allow residents to construct security fences that are as high as 4.5m without needing a permit. And for some areas, one can’t construct a fence that is over 1m without a permit.
Other factors that determine how high you can legally make the fence include its proximity to streets or roads, and whether it has the potential of creating blind spots at intersections.
What if we disagree on the style of fense?
If you disagree on the style of the fence with your neighbor, you can simply choose to install it on your side of the property. When you do so, you will have absolute authority with respect to the style and height of the fence. This is because it will be on your side of the property.
Can you force a neighbor to replace a fence?
No. Generally, you can’t force a neighbor to replace a fence if it belongs to them and if it is on their side of the property. Even in cases where it is on the boundary, you can’t really do anything about it unless special circumstances exist.
For example, if the fence that they have constructed is at a height or in a style that isn’t in accordance with the HOA rules or the general fencing guidelines in your area, you can indirectly force them to replace it by informing the relevant authority.
In cases where a neighbor’s fence poses a danger to your or your loved ones, you can go to court to have them tear it down or replace it.
However, if it is simply a matter of you not liking the style of the fence or if the fence is in poor shape, you are virtually powerless as far as forcing them to replace it is concerned. In such a case, the best you can do is to install your own fence alongside theirs in order to keep it out of sight.
What side of the fence is legally yours?
There isn’t a law that stipulates which side — whether right or left — of a fence legally belongs to one neighbor and not the other. However, property deeds can sometimes provide specifications with respect to fence ownership. And in such cases, the side in which the deed specifies is legally yours will be the one that will be.
But as a general rule, a fence will be legally yours if you install it on your side of the property line. Any fence that is installed on the boundary will belong to both you and your neighbor.
Can I remove my neighbor’s fence?
Yes, you can remove your neighbor’s fence if they have installed the fence on your side of the property line. In such a case, they will be encroaching on your land and thus interfering with your right to peacefully enjoy it.
However, if the fence is on their side of the property line and they are the ones who installed it, you have no right to remove the fence. No matter how much of an eyesore the fence is, and no matter how worn out it is, it is their property and they have exclusive rights to it. If you remove it, you will be sued and you will end up paying damages.
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