Fencing disputes are common in cases where neighbors disagree on the type of fence to be installed, its location, and how to split the cost of installation and maintenance. This is so especially in cases where one neighbor is under the impression that the fence is more beneficial to the other neighbor or that they altogether do not need it.
Cases of neighbors refusing to contribute in shouldering the cost of a fence in installation or maintenance are thus not shocking.
While the law may vary from state to state, it is generally clear when it comes to boundary fences: they are jointly owned by the neighbors.
As a result, provided both neighbors are using a fence, the law stipulates that the costs of installing and maintaining the fence should be shared equally between the neighbors. And if one neighbor refuses to pay, the other neighbor can do the installation or repairs and thereafter seek to be reimbursed by the other neighbor.
They have a right to go to mediation and even to court in order to force the reluctant party to reimburse them their share — usually half — of the costs.
Here is what you should know about what happens if a neighbor refuses to pay for a fence.
The specifics of the laws that apply to disputes relating to sharing costs of installing and maintaining boundary fences vary from state to state. However, generally, the neighbors are supposed to share the costs equally. This applies to both the costs of maintaining and installing the fence. This is so mainly because the law considers boundary fences to be joint property that is owned equally by adjoining neighbors.
Exceptions to the equal share rule
However, as far as equally sharing the costs are concerned, there are two main exceptions where the law usually entertains unequal sharing of the costs. This usually happens in cases where:
- One neighbor wants a fence that is of higher quality and thus more expensive than necessary. In such a case, the neighbor who wants a higher-than-needed quality fence will pay the added costs of the installation.
- One neighbor is directly responsible for the damage that a fence suffers. In such a case, the responsible neighbor will shoulder all of the costs pertaining to maintaining the fence.
The requirement for use of the fence
However, in order for a neighbor to be able to be compelled to pay their share of the costs, they need to be using the fence. If they are not deemed by the law to be using it, then they cannot be compelled to pay.
Generally, a person is considered by law to be using a fence if they are using their land up to the fence. If they attach their own fence to it, they are also considered to be using it. And also if the fence forms part of a structure enclosing their property.
Approaching your neighbors about paying half
Generally, it is required that you give your neighbors a formal notice of your intention to set up the boundary fence. Such a notice usually stipulates the type of fence to be installed, costs of installation, and the need for the neighbor to pay for half of the costs.
However, while the law in most areas outlines this as the first step, it is usually advisable that you approach your neighbor informally before issuing such a notice. An informal approach, explaining the need for a fence and seeking your neighbor’s opinion on what is needed, has a better chance of yielding positive results and less resistance.
It is only after the neighbor seems reluctant to participate in sharing the costs should you then proceed with the formal notice.
What if your neighbors say no?
If your neighbor says no to your informal approach, the next step should be to get an estimate of the cost of the fence from a contractor. Get a lawyer to draft a formal notice and then attach the estimate. In the letter, make sure to clearly state the requirement that the neighbor participates in sharing the costs.
If you don’t receive a negative response from your neighbor, or you don’t receive any response, then you should proceed and build the fence yourself. And after you are done, you can write a demand letter to your neighbor requiring that they reimburse you their share of the costs.
If they don’t, then you should take the matter to mediation. A mediator will help you two to reach an agreement. And if that doesn’t yield the results that you want, then you can file a suit in a Small Claims Court seeking to have the neighbor pay their share of the costs.
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution method that is commonly employed in settling fence disputes. It is generally preferred because it charts a more amicable path to a satisfactory resolution among neighbors. It also costs less than litigation, making it a more pocket-friendly alternative to going to court.
Most states provide mediation services. Therefore, if you hit a negotiation roadblock with your neighbor, the first thing that you should do is to visit a local office of their offices and present your case. The service will then contact your neighbor and inform them of the fact that they have been contacted in relation to the boundary fence.
The service will then get both of you together and try to make you negotiate. And if that doesn’t work, they will then allocate two independent mediators to help you reach an agreement. It is only after the mediation process fails are the neighbors then advised to take the matter to court.
Basic rules for dividing fences?
There are a few basic rules that govern dividing fences.
Rule 1: Dividing fences are owned jointly by adjoining neighbors
Generally, the law considers dividing fences to be a joint property that is owned equally by both neighbors. This means that provided both neighbors are using the fence, then they have equal rights and obligations with respect to the fence.
Rule 2: Neighbors shall share the costs of installing the fence equally
Since a dividing fence is deemed to be owned equally by both parties, then it follows that the neighbors contribute equally towards setting it up. And in case one neighbor is uncooperative, the other neighbor can proceed to build the fence and thereafter take their neighbor to court in order to recover half of the costs of the installation.
Rule 3: The responsibility of repairing and maintaining the fence lies equally on both neighbors
The equal sharing of obligations does not stop at installation. It extends throughout the life of the fence whereby both neighbors are supposed to share the responsibility of keeping the fence in a good condition equally.
Rule 4: A neighbor cannot replace or remove a dividing fence without the consent, or at least notifying, the other neighbor
Since the fence is the property of both neighbors, then getting the other neighbor involved is always fair. Most states make it mandatory for the person intending to replace or remove a dividing fence to at least serve their neighbor with a written notice before making any changes.
Rule 5: A neighbor who destroys a dividing fence shall be responsible for repairing or replacing it
While neighbors are generally required to share equally in shouldering the burden of maintaining and repairing a dividing fence, this does not apply in cases where one neighbor is to blame for a fence’s damage.
What if my neighbor doesn’t want a fence?
If your neighbor doesn’t want a fence, you have two options.
The first option is to build the fence on your side of the property line. Such a fence will be your personal property and you will have absolute control over how you build and use it.
The second option is to install the dividing fence on the property line anyway. And after you are done, you can then proceed to mediation or to court in order to have your neighbor pay half of the cost of installing the fence.
Can I force my neighbor to pay half?
Yes, you can pay your neighbor to pay half. You can do this by first building the fence, and thereafter writing to your neighbor demanding that they pay half of the cost of installing it. If they refuse, you can go to a mediator in order to try to get them to pay their share of the cost. And if that doesn’t work, you can file a lawsuit against your neighbor in order to recover half of the cost.
Do Neighbors have to share the cost of a fence?
Neighbors don’t always have to share the cost of a fence.
In cases where there is a property deed that stipulates whose responsibility it is to set up and maintain a fence, then that party will be the one to take care of all the costs of the fence. Agreements between neighbors can also exempt one of them from sharing the cost of a fence.
Also, if one neighbor isn’t using the fence — according to the law — then they don’t have to contribute to paying the cost of the fence.
However, generally, neighbors usually share in the cost of a fence provided it is a dividing fence that sits on the property line.
What do you do when neighbors erect a fence which blocks the light into your home?
The first thing that you should do is talk to them and explain the effect that the fence is having on your home. If this doesn’t work, then you should report them to your local HomeOwners’ Association. Most HOAs have rules and regulations governing fence erection and erecting a fence that blocks light into a home is against the rules, they can force the neighbor to remove the fence.
In some jurisdictions, there are rules directly prohibiting the erection of fences that block light from getting into neighbor’s homes. If your home is in such an area, then reporting the matter to the local authority is something that you should consider doing.
What is the height limit for a fence?
While height limits vary from state to state, the general height limit is 4 feet for front fences and 6 feet for rear fences.
One can still erect fences that are taller than the height limits. However, they will need a permit in order to do so.
Who is responsible for the maintenance of a fence between two properties?
Generally, both neighbors are responsible for the maintenance of a fence between two properties. However, there are times when property deeds assign fence maintenance responsibilities. In such cases, then the party whom the property deed has identified as being responsible for fence maintenance is the one who will be.
Can I build a fence on my side of the property line?
Yes, you can build a fence on your side of the property line. This is because you have absolute building rights to build whatever structure you want on your own property. A fence is no exception.
Who gets to the good side of the fence?
Good fence etiquette dictates that your neighbor gets the good side of the fence. However, it is usually fair to swap the good side after every 10 years to 15 years — when the fence is to be replaced.
Can I paint my side of the fence?
Yes, you can paint your side of the fence because you own part of the fence.
Can I replace an existing fence without neighbor’s permission?
An existing dividing fence is owned by both neighbors and so seeking your neighbor’s permission before replacing it is generally advisable. In most jurisdictions, you have to at least notify your neighbor of your intention to replace the fence.
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