Every homeowner strives to keep a healthy and peaceful relationship with their neighbor. Sadly, disputes with neighbors, especially on matters regarding property lines and fences are almost inevitable.

For this reason, the state of Iowa, like most states in the country, passed fence statutes to help neighbors resolve these disputes.

Here are a few of the key regulations you should know.

Yes. According to most county and city authorities, you’ll need a permit to erect or replace any new fence. However, other cities such as the city of Iowa require a building permit for fences taller than 6 feet in height.

There might also be other zoning regulations in your county or city governing the materials and setback distance of your fence. Depending on your local ordinances, some of these regulations could require a permit.

Therefore, it’s best if you contact your local building and planning department to verify whether you’ll need one.

Can I replace an existing fence without a permit?

You can, but the rules may vary depending on your city regulations. If you’re replacing the existing fence with similar components, on the same location without altering its height, many local ordinances will allow you to work without a permit.

But if the replacement alters any aspect of the existing fence, including its height, location, or material, you’ll need a permit.

Some fencing laws also demand a permit if you’re repairing more than 50% of the existing fence.

What is the height limit for a fence in Iowa?

Height regulations for fences vary depending on your residential area. Most districts limit their fences to 6 feet in the rear and side yard and 4 feet for the front yard.

Some exceptions are, however, allowed, depending on the slope of your property. In such cases, the maximum allowed fence height is 8 feet.

All new fences have to observe these and other zoning regulations imposed by the city or county. Nonetheless, if the property owner applies for a variance, or if that fence was built before the passage of such law, the fence can remain in place.

Property line fence laws Iowa

Who owns the fence on property lines in IA?

The Iowa fence laws state that a boundary fence between two landowners must be maintained and the expense split between both owners.
If there’s no fence on your boundary, there’s no obligation for any neighbor to build it.

However, if one landowner decides to build it, they are legally allowed to demand, through a written request, the other landowner to build their part of the fence.

How do you know where the property boundary is?

Hire a professional surveyor to locate it. Survey data provides the most accurate location of where your property boundaries are. The surveyor will map your boundaries to ensure you can always tell where your land ends.

You can also know where your boundaries are by visiting your county assessor’s website. Many local offices today upload plat maps detailing the boundaries of properties within their area to their websites.

Can my neighbor build a fence on the property line?

Yes! While it’s not a legal obligation for any property owner to build a fence, they have the freedom to do it – even on the property line. But being a fence-in state, only neighbors with livestock are required to erect fences.

It’s important to note that according to the Iowa Code § 359A.1A, the neighbor who chooses to build the fence may also compel you to build, maintain and contribute towards the fence.

Who pays for the fence that is built on the property line that divides the land?

Both adjoining landowners have to pay for the fence on their property line unless they’ve agreed otherwise. Their agreement should be written and recorded at the county recorder’s office for it to be binding.

Any disputes regarding the payments can be handled by fence viewers provided by your township. The viewers will assess the condition of the fence and determine how much each landowner should pay.

Important: While many property owners have challenged the law requiring neighbors to contribute towards partition fences even when they don’t need it, the Supreme court has upheld this law over several decisions.

Can I put up a fence on my side of the property line?

Yes! Property owners in Iowa don’t have to put up fences for purposes of boundaries alone. However, according to Iowa Code § 359A.17, even if your fence isn’t located on the boundary line, the local restrictions regarding partition fences may still be enforced on it.

You might also have to observe the height limits and other ordinances set by the homeowner’s association.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of a fence between two properties?

The Iowa state fence laws cast the responsibility of a boundary fence on the adjoining owners using the fence. Each neighbor is responsible for the maintenance, repairs, and replacement of an equal partition of the fence (including hedges).

However, the Iowa laws allow the neighbors to come up with agreements regarding these responsibilities. For instance, most owners use the ‘Right-Hand Rule’ to determine their responsibilities.

Under this rule, both landowners face each other at the midpoint of their fence and agree to maintain the fence portions to their right side.
If any dispute arises between the neighbors, a four-step statutory process is invoked to resolve the matter.

  • Step 1 – The complaining landowner first submits a written request to the non-compliant owner, asking them to pay for their share of the fence.
  • Step 2 – If they don’t take action, the complaining owner can contact the township trustees or fence viewers to help resolve the case.
  • Step 3 – The trustees give a 5-day written notice to both neighbors regarding the location and time of the hearing.
  • Step 4 – The fence viewers or trustees meet and issue an order that allocates erection or maintenance responsibility for the fence to the responsible neighbor.

The decision of these fence trustees is legally binding, and you might actually have to pay them a small fee.

What is a spite fence?

A spite fence refers to a fence structure built for no useful purpose to the owner rather than annoying the neighbor. Many states in the country have set laws against any fences of this nature.

Nonetheless, Iowa doesn’t have any laws barring spite fences. They only become an issue if the adjacent neighbor can prove that a fence is obstructing the free use of their land or unreasonably interfering with their enjoyment of their property.

In such a case, this fence is then considered a nuisance under NUISANCES, §657.2, and the court can have it abated.

Iowa boundary fence laws at a glance

This table provides an overview of some of the state laws governing Iowa’s fence laws and links to their original documents.

StatuesBoundary FencesSpite Fences
Iowa code sections: 359A.1A Boundary fences

Iowa code sections: 657.1 Spite fences
Adjoining landowners must build a partition fence and jointly maintain it if one owner makes a written request for a boundary fence.

Boundary fence made from hedge must be trimmed back twice per year, once in June and once in September, to within 5 feet of the ground (unless neighbors agree otherwise)

If disputes arise regarding boundary fences, property owners can submit the controversy to a “fence viewer” for a hearing on the issue.
In Iowa, there are no specific laws that forbid spite fences. Anyway, an “obstruction to the free use of property so as essentially to interfere unreasonably with the comfortable enjoyment of the life or property” can be considered a nuisance under Iowa law.

Keep in mind; These laws are bound to change with time depending on the new legislation, federal court decisions, and other initiatives. Use the information provided above as a guide and research the latest regulations in your municipality.

FAQ's

The Iowa fence laws stipulate that adjoining landowners are responsible for the partition fence between their properties, unless otherwise agreed. It also allows landowners to compel the adjoining neighbor to erect or repair a boundary fence between them.

In Iowa, property owners can only take action against fences that can be deemed a nuisance. So, since this new fence is blocking your enjoyment of your property, you can file a suit in court to have the fence removed.

It depends on your agreement. If the fence is on your side of the property line, the neighbor will need your permission to hang things on it. If the neighbor proceeds and hangs things on the fence without your consent, you can sue them for trespassing or criminal damage.

Not without your neighbor’s permission. The law only allows you to paint the fence that you own or, in some cases, the side that’s inside your property. So, unless you’re cost-sharing the fence, your neighbor has the right to sue you for vandalism when you paint your side of their fence.

Yes! You can build a fence next to your neighbor’s to hide their ‘ugly side’ or to have the freedom to hang things. Just ensure that the fence remains at least 5 inches from the property line.

Yes! Many local district authorities and homeowner associations regulate the appearance of fences in their neighborhoods. This means that before erecting your fence you need to check the allowed heights, materials, and design consistency allowed in your area.

Once you notice that a property owner has violated a local ordinance, your first step should be telling them. If they don’t take action, notify the city which will then inform and penalize the property owner for their non-conformance.

Another alternative would be to sue the owner in a small claims court on grounds of a nuisance.

Timothy Munene
Author: Timothy Munene - Timothy is a freelance writer and an online entrepreneur.