Most neighbors prefer to build fences to maintain privacy in their compound. Unfortunately, quite a number of homeowners are not well conversant with fences matters, and in most cases, they start paying close attention when the need arises, and sometimes this is too late.
Whether you can stop your neighbor from building a fence is a yes and no question. Under some conditions, you can stop your neighbor from building a fence, while in some, you cannot. The ideal answer is dependent on a few legal documents and procedures.
Let’s go through some common scenarios that give rise to the question.
Instances When You Can Stop a Neighbor's Fence Construction
- When your neighbor is constructing a fence inconsistent with the neighborhood standards. Your neighbor is obligated to conform to the local standards of design. Local fencing laws guide the requirement offenses, from the height, to the prohibited material, as well as how far a neighbor can set back the fence.
- When your neighbor’s fence touches your fence. Your neighbor has no right to attach a nail to your fence, leave alone construct a fence that touches your fence if you have not permitted them. As long as you legally own the fence, you have the right to stop the construction.
- When your neighbor wants to construct a fence on land that you have been using for more than 20 years. You can legally stop your neighbor from constructing a fence that you have been using for this long by claiming ownership through adverse possession. To claim ownership through adverse possession, most state laws require that it be actual, notorious, and open to the world, antagonistic to the genuine owner’s interests, exclusive, and continuous for the statutory duration to get title to the property by adverse possession.
Instances When You Cannot Stop Fence Construction
- When your neighbor is constructing an unsightly fence. While this may sound like a genuine concern for aesthetics, you cannot stop your neighbor from building a fence on their property, however hideous you perceive it. As long as the fence poses no safety concern and does not violate any legal legislation, your hands remain tied. But, unfortunately, you will have to get used to the fence over time.
- When your neighbor is constructing a fence in front of your fence. Unfortunately, you cannot stop your neighbor from installing a fence in front of your fence as long as it is on their property. The fence, however, should be a few inches from your fence such that it does not obstruct or touch your fence. Nonetheless, the space between the two fences remains yours, and you should maintain it as normal.
Steps You Should Follow Before Stopping Your Neighbor's Fence Construction
Before you stop your neighbor’s fence construction, there are legal procedures and documents that you should take a look at.
Analyze Your Local Jurisdiction's Zoning Ordinance
The best step to start with would be to check whether your neighbor’s fence complies with the zoning ordinance provisions. If your neighbor’s fence fails to observe the provisions of the zoning ordinance, they may be required to pay a fine or demolish the whole fence.
For example, suppose your neighbor intends or has already started constructing a front yard fence. You may be lucky to find out that the zoning ordinance prohibits the construction of a front yard fence in your neighborhood. In this case, you can stop your neighbor from building the fence.
Check Whether Your Neighborhood Is a Historic District
Regardless of whether fences are allowed in your zone or not, if your home is located in a historic district, additional regulations apply. Historic districts receive legal protection from the state to maintain the architectural design of the district.
The regulations safeguard the architectural design of the neighborhood and make them unique. To be on the safe side, your neighbor may need to look for materials that uphold the architectural design of the neighborhood.
Check Requirements of the Local Setback
Setback requirement is the minimum distance a house should be from the front, back, and sides of the fence. While this distance allows the house to access public utilities, it also keeps the whole neighborhood uniform.
If your neighbor violates the setback requirement, these are legal grounds to ask them to stop the construction. Remember that setback requirements differ for industrial, institutional, and residential structures and depend on the local zoning laws.
For this reason, you need to ensure that you are no stranger to the setback requirements of your area before asking your neighbor to stop building the fence on such grounds.
Check Whether the House Is in a Planned Community
The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) is an official real estate record that describes the rules for a planned community. The CC&Rs prohibit the building of fences or sometimes restrict where the fences can be constructed.
This document comes in handy when you are in dire need of objecting to your neighbor’s construction of a new fence since compared to zoning ordinances, which I mentioned above, the CC&Rs have more strict design standards.
Follow Up Your Findings
This step depends on what you find in the documents you have analyzed.
If luck is on your side and you find that your neighbor violates any of the requirements on any document, you may file a complaint to your local code enforcement department, where they will do further investigation. They would typically not take any action until somebody issues a complaint.
Remember that it is not a guarantee that your complaint will be successful. But if it is, the city will issue your neighbor a written notice of non-conformance within 30 to 60 days plus an order to set back or take down the fence.
Alternatives to Take To Stop Your Neighbor From Building a Fence
If, after reviewing the documents, you find that your neighbor does not violate any requirements, worry not. You still have a few more options.
If you and your neighbor have a nice relationship, you may try communicating with them. This conversation can be through a written letter or face to face. In most cases, you may find that your neighbor is installing a fence due to a minor inconvenience that can be fixed by communicating.
Alternatively, if you and your neighbor do not see eye to eye or they are unresponsive to your efforts in communicating, you still have other options within your reach.
Mediation is a somewhat informal way of solving disputes whereby the conflicting parties get to hash out their differences with a neutral third party. Although mediation will include some kind of compromise, it goes a long way in finding the best alternative.
Get a Solicitor
A solicitor is a rather expensive alternative because you will incorporate a professional specializing in solving neighbor disputes.
File a lawsuit
If your attempts to stop your neighbor from building a fence formally and informally are not fruitful, and you are dead set on not having the fence, you may consider filing a lawsuit. Getting an injunction from the court to stop your neighbor from building the fence is possible, but you will need to consult your attorney on this.
Very serious friction can arise from this dispute and an all-out war in a worst-case scenario. Whichever route you decide to take, remember to avoid any kind of altercation or argument, which could potentially get out of hand and run the risk of breaking the law.
If all your attempts at stopping your neighbor from building a fence fail, you can only accept it. You may be infuriated by the outcome, but you have to throw in the towel.
It is understandable that the fence may make you angry or annoyed, but relinquish any thought of bringing down the fence. However, if you do so, you will be asked to compensate your neighbor if they file legal complaints fully.
Yes, you can stop your neighbor from painting your fence. Unfortunately, some people may be inconsiderate enough to paint a fence that’s on your property. This is not only rude but also goes against acceptable fence etiquette. If you can’t ignore the paint, consider talking to them to repaint the fence to your preferred color.
No, you cannot make changes to your neighbor’s fence, at least not without their permission. You must consult them first and ensure the changes are at par with their expectations and your agreement. However, beware that you’ll be liable for any damages caused by the changes you make.