Sharing a boundary fence with your neighbor often leads to better relations for both of you. When the terms are right, you not only cut down the cost of building but that of maintenance as well.
Unfortunately, fences can also be a big source of conflict among neighbors, which, if not quickly addressed, can easily turn to expensive legal battles.
That’s why property owners in Rhode Island should strive to know what their state fence and property line laws stipulate.
It depends on the location of your property. According to most county and city regulations, no building permit is needed for fences 6 feet or less in height.
However, towns such as Woonsocket, Narragansett, and several others require a permit before installing any type of fence. You’ll also need a permit for temporary fences.
The local Homeowners Association may also have a say in the fencing requirements of your area. As such, always consult your local town regulations before the construction begins.
Can I replace an existing fence without a permit?
In most cases, no! Most towns will require a permit for any construction work that affects the structure of the existing fence. Generally, only minor repairs may be allowed without a permit.
Nevertheless, some townships may allow you to work without a permit if you’re replacing the fence with a similar type, i.e., same material, position, and height.
Confirm the permitting regulations from your town’s planning department.
How tall can a privacy fence be in Rhode Island?
Height regulations vary in each town or district mainly because of the different HOA restrictions in place. However, most fencing laws require a maximum height of 6 feet in height for residential fences.
In front yards, the fence is limited to 4 feet unless it’s adjacent to a public-right-of-way, then it’s 3 feet. Rear and side yard fences are capped at 6 feet.
Fences in commercial zoning districts have a maximum height restriction of 8 feet.
Who owns the fence on property lines in RI?
The Rhode Island § 34-10-9 general laws state that the fence on the property equally belongs to the adjoining neighbors. It also says that each neighbor must maintain one-half of the fence in good order unless they agree otherwise.
This law holds even for neighbors who’ve just moved into a property where the previous owner agreed to build the fence. In this case, you can only get out of such obligations if you have a written agreement with the neighbor.
How do you know where the property boundary is?
Hiring a surveyor is widely regarded as the best way to find the property boundary between adjoining properties.
The surveyor will consider past agreements and the area’s plat map data to locate the precise location of your boundary. They’ll also leave visible flags, pins, or stakes to make the boundaries easier to spot.
An alternative to this is checking your deed – they usually have the property’s boundary details.
If you don’t have this document yet, you can also visit your local recorder’s office to access your neighborhood’s plat map. Note; some municipalities have uploaded these maps on their website!
Can my neighbor build a fence on the property line?
Yes. According to section 34-10-9 of the Rhode Island fence laws, all partition fences have to be on the property line. However, the neighbor will have to give you a notice in writing (in case of a barbed wire fence) regarding their intentions.
If you don’t think you need that fence, you’re allowed to work out a separate agreement with the neighbor. Each of these agreements will have to be registered at your town clerk’s office to be enforceable.
The fence law also provides the option of involving fence viewers if you get into a conflict with the neighbor regarding this fence.
Using Fence Viewers to resolve disputes
The concept of using fence viewers to resolve fence disputes between neighbors in Rhode Island was introduced in the 1800s.
If one neighbor violates their agreements by failing to contribute to the repairs or building of the fence, the complaining neighbor can call the fence viewers.
The Viewers will first send a ten-day notice to both owners, after which they’ll visit the fence to resolve the dispute. If they find the delinquent owner wrong, they’ll then give a 15-day notice for them to fix the fence.
For disputes regarding rights to the division line or fence, the fence viewer will assess the matter after the 10-day notice then assign each party their portion to repair or build.
All the decisions by the fence viewers will be in writing and a copy recorded at the town clerk’s office.
Can I put up a fence on my side of the property line?
Yes! While the RI laws restrict partition fences to be on the property line, there’s no law prohibiting you from putting up one for other reasons on your side of the property line.
You’ll only need to ensure that the fence is lawful as stated under RI fence laws § 34-10-1, and that it doesn’t violate any local zoning regulations and HOA ordinances.
What is a spite fence?
Spite fences are any fence structures erected with malicious intent to annoy, harm, or irritate a neighbor. They’re usually taller than the required local height restrictions and intentionally designed to be an eyesore.
What to do with “Spiteful neighbors”?
The Rhode Island fence laws, under section § 34-10-20, consider spite fences illegal and a private nuisance.
A neighbor who falls victim to this fence, whether through an injury or interference with the enjoyment of their property, has the right to take legal action to recover damages for the injuries.
Boundary by Acquiescence
During a dispute where both neighbors don’t know the actual location of their boundaries, the law of acquiescence may apply.
Under this law, the courts acknowledge a mutually recognized property line as the official property line, even if that boundary violates the ‘true’ survey boundary on paper.
In many cases, the dividing line is usually a landmark or natural feature, e.g., a ditch or a small stream. However, both neighbors must have recognized it as a boundary for more than 20 years for acquiescence to apply.
Rhode Island boundary fence laws at a glance
This table provides an overview of some of the state laws governing Rhode Island’s fence laws and links to their original documents.
|Statues||Boundary by Acquiescence||Local Fence||Regulations|
|RI Gen Laws § 34-10-1 Lawful fences defined|
RI Gen Laws § 34-10-17 Settlement of controversies by a viewer
RI Gen Laws § 34-10-9 Fence maintenance
RI Gen Laws § 34-10-20 Spite Fence
|In Rhode Island, boundary by acquiescence is shown by proving:|
There is a property line dispute between adjoining landowners who have occupied their respective lots up to a certain boundary. Mutual acceptance of that line as the property boundary for more than 20 years.
|City of Newport zoning and inspections||City of Providence zoning board review
City of Narragansett codes and ordinances
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.
Who owns the fence between neighbors?
The law acknowledges both adjoining neighbors as owners of the shared fence unless they’ve agreed otherwise. Any contrary agreement is supposed to be recorded at the office of the town clerk.
What if a new fence is blocking my view?
Such a fence can be considered a private nuisance by the Rhode Island fence laws. You can therefore take action to receive damages money and even have it removed if it violates any of your local regulations.
Can my neighbor hang things on my fence?
Legally, no. Your neighbor isn’t allowed to use your fence in any way without your permission. Hanging things can not only be considered trespassing but also criminal damage.
Can I paint my side of the fence?
Depends on your fence agreement with the neighbor. For shared boundary fences, you can paint your side of the fence. However, when dealing with your neighbor’s fence, you’ll first need to obtain their permission.
Can I build a fence next to my neighbor’s fence?
Yes. At the moment, there are no laws in Rhode Island prohibiting building a fence on your property. You’ll only need to ensure that you stay at least two feet from the property line. You’ll also have to observe the HOA fence restrictions in the area.
Do neighbors have to share the cost of a fence?
Ideally yes. Adjoining neighbors have to share the cost of building, repairing, or replacing a fence on their property line. However, they also have the freedom to come up with a different agreement that benefits both of them.
Do I need a permit for a fence in Cumberland, RI?
Yes! The planning and development department requires a permit for any new constructions, including a new or temporary fence. You might also need a special permit if the fence is greater than 6 feet in height.