Unfortunately, some of us don’t get along with our neighbors for a myriad of reasons. But some conflicts get escalated to the next level and the dividing fence sometimes gets used as ammunition.
Just as the name suggests, a spite fence is one erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying a neighbor. It is usually ugly and imposing and can be made of wood, metal, or trees. The fence has nothing to do with security or privacy, but it may block your view, shade your pool or just look plain ugly.
This article explains the legality of building a spite fence and whether or not you can build one. Also, it shows examples of a spite fence and how tall it can be.
Are Spite Fences Legal?
In some states and cities, a spite fence may not be legal. However, you must prove that the fence is indeed a spite fence, and you are not just annoyed with it because it does not match the aesthetics of your property or suit your purpose. If you can prove it, there is ground to sue your neighbor for private nuisance.
In most instances, a private nuisance lawsuit comprises issues such as noise or any form of disturbance to your privacy from outside. Decoration on someone else’s private property, whether it is the color of paint or roof type, does not fit the bill for a private nuisance lawsuit. The same is true if the lawsuit is about someone building a fence you think does not fit the style of the neighborhood.
However, some local legislatures and states laws that address the issue of a spite fence. The Rhode Island Code Section 34-10-20 and the California Code Section 841.4 address the issue. Both legislations basically state that any fence or structure in nature of a fence erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the occupant of the adjoining property is a private nuisance.
Burden of Proof
The problem with cases like this usually lies in proving that the fence or similar structure fits the bill of a private nuisance. It falls on you to provide adequate evidence to prove your case. The evidence you present can come in different forms, but it must be admissible in court and good enough to settle the matter in your favor.
Examples of evidence to present in court that may work in your favor are photos of the fence. If it is newly erected, you can present before and after photos, showing the fence’s lack of purpose except to cause a nuisance. The photos can also show how it affects the lights due to the height or shape. Other neighbors can corroborate your story if you can find willing testifiers.
How Tall Can a Fence Be?
The height of a fence depends on the city and state of residence. There are no specific set rules for the height of residential fences, but the necessity may require taller fences for a few more than others. For example, the fence in front of a house may be between three and four feet, but the backyard fence may be as tall as six feet.
To put it simply, a deer fence can be as high as seven feet and a fence erected for privacy can be between six and eight feet tall. Dog fences can vary; different dog breeds require different fence heights for proper confinement. So, a dog fence can be between four and six feet. And a pool fence can be as low as four feet.
Example of a Spite Fence
A spite fence can be made of anything, from metal to wood, which is a common fencing material. But such a fence can also be trees, which a spiteful neighbor plants and nurtures to create an obstruction. A spite fence usually blocks light or air and may even block a neighbor’s view.
Can I Build a Spite Fence?
You can apply to erect your fence higher than the mandated height in a particular city or state. But there is no guarantee that your application will be granted because most high fences may be an obstruction to a neighbor or even the entire neighborhood, depending on the layout.
In some places, it is against the law to erect a spite fence, but you may have a permit to adjust the height of your fence if you have valid reasons for it. There are exceptions, such as when there is a golf course, to prevent golf balls from flying over the walls and breaking windows.
As a private residence, you can have a high fence if a neighbor deliberately messes up your yard with garbage. Speak with the local authorities if you have any reason to raise your residential fence higher than the authorized height.
Can I Remove a Neighbor’s Spite Fence?
You can present your case to a court if a neighbor threatens to build a spite fence on your property line. The court can stop the building of the fence. If the neighbor already has the fence in place, make your case before a court of law so it can mandate the neighbor to remove it.
However, you must prove the fence is a problem, and if you can prove it affects an entire neighborhood with witnesses, you may have a stronger case. Therefore, file a suit against the neighbor for the fence removal.