The old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors,” can be true in most cases. But, sometimes, you’ll get a neighbor who doesn’t respect your boundary, like a fence on property line boundaries.
A boundary dispute can arise when a neighbor adds to their home or crosses your shared property line in some way. In this article, we’re going to share tips for handling this situation well.
Please note that this article is not intended to replace legal advice. It’s always best to consult with a legal professional before taking any legal action.
Most fence disputes come from not knowing what is permitted by fence laws and regulations within your state and city.
To help you learn more about the laws regarding your particular fence dispute, we’ve listed some common fence problems here:
Neighbor’s Fence Violates Fence Height Limitations In Local Fence Laws
If your neighbor has a fence that’s too tall or violates local fence laws, here is what you should keep in mind.
Most municipal fence laws require residential fences have a maximum height of four feet for front yards and six feet for backyards.
If you live in a homeowners’ association (HOA), you may need to consult their rules as well, known as Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).
In special circumstances, your neighbor may be able to have a fence that violates local fencing laws, including:
- The fence was built before the fence laws were passed. If your neighbor’s fence existed previous to the new fence height regulations, they might be able to keep their fence.
- Your neighbor received a variance for their fence. Sometimes, fence owners can apply for a variance or one-time exception to the restricting fence law.
Neighbor Refuses To Share Repair Costs For Shared Fence On Property Line
When a boundary fence straddles a property line, it’s critical that the fence, also called a division fence, conforms to local ordinances. Since a boundary fence is shared between homeowners, most fence laws and local ordinances stipulate that each owner shares fence maintenance costs and repairs.
If a neighbor refuses to cooperate in paying their share of, you can take the following actions:
- Write a letter to your neighbor that explains the reason for the repair and requests that they pay their portion of the maintenance costs.
- Hire someone to repair the fence, then write a demand letter requesting their portion as reimbursement.
- Request a “fence viewer” and have them examine the fence and determine whether the fence repair is needed and the cost is reasonable.
- Sue the neighbor, as a last resort, to have them reimburse you according to their fair share.
Neighbor Has Constructed A Fence Without Giving A Notice
While state laws vary regarding giving a neighbor notice, we’ll use Washington law for the sake of example.
According to Washington fence law, spite fences are defined as fences built primarily to annoy or harass a neighbor. In many cases, courts can issue an order (known as injunctions) to halt the construction of a spite fence.
As a Washington homeowner, you have rights under RCW 7.40.030. If you suspect that your neighbor has built, or started building, a fence primarily to annoy you, here are some recommendations:
- If your neighbor is building the fence, you can ask the court to issue an injunction or order to cease the fence’s construction.
- For a fence that is already built, you can ask the court to order your neighbor to remove the fence.
Neighbor’s Fence Is Ugly Or Doesn’t Match Neighborhood.
Consulting with your local fencing laws can provide many details about limitations on fences in your area, like:
- The height of your fence
- The required distance between a fence and the boundary line
- Allowed fence materials
- Prohibited fence materials
- Fence maintenance rules
- Fence types regarded as dangerous
If your fence doesn’t pose harm to anyone, it will most likely not violate any laws simply because it’s ugly.
However, the subdivision’s CC&Rs for your area can offer additional restrictions on your neighbor’s fence, like appearance. Neighbors can build an ugly fence out of spite or ignorance of what’s required of them as they build their fence.
Neighbor’s Fence Was Built On The Property Line
If your neighbor has built the fence on the property line that divides your land, they are responsible for the fence maintenance.
Every municipality and state has different definitions for what is considered the “use” of a fence. However, it’s most often defined as when you use the fence to enclose your property. If you own a fence, your neighbor is required to pay for half of the fence’s value.
Get Legal Help When Dealing With Fence & Property Line Disputes
While seemingly petty, fence disputes can impact property rights, and it’s best to handle them wisely and properly. If you have legal questions or want to pursue legal actions, consult with a legal professional or real estate attorney.