In some situations, you can remove a neighbor’s fence on your property. However, to do so, you may want to try negotiating with your neighbor before taking the fence down by force. Otherwise, you’ll want to consult and hire a licensed surveyor and check to see if the fence has a building permit before removing the fence.
Fences can be a great way to create privacy, clearly define property boundaries, boost curb appeal, and potentially increase the market value of a home. Good fences that are well-maintained and properly constructed can make for good neighbors. On the other hand, a neighbor’s ugly and dilapidated fence, or one that has encroached property lines, can be a headache.
So, what happens if the fence needs repair, blocks views, or is just plain unsightly? Can a fence be removed if it encroaches on property lines? What do you need to do to legally remove a neighbor’s fence? This article answers all you need to know about fencing laws, how to resolve fence disputes, and how adverse possession and boundary acquiescence may affect the dispute.
Can a neighbor’s fence that’s encroaching on the property line be removed?
Let’s say your neighbor builds a new fence and you realize that it’s encroaching on your property lines. Can you remove the fence? David Clark, a trial lawyer and partner at The Clark Law Office, says, “To put it simply, yes. You can remove your neighbor’s fence on your property.”
Israel Piedra — a partner at Welts, White & Fontaine, P.C. — agrees. “You likely would need to offer the neighbor an opportunity to relocate the fence rather than just taking it down without notice. However, if they refuse to remove the fence after reasonable notice, you likely would be entitled to take it down yourself.”
How to resolve boundary disputes
As mentioned, it’s more complicated than just removing a fence. Taking down a fence as your first step in the process could bring some undesired consequences.
“This is called encroachment, and it can happen either by accident or intentionally,” Clark explains. “Whether it’s intentional or by accident, you have three options: discuss the matter with your neighbor, get a licensed surveyor involved, or check if there’s a permit for the fence.”
1. Discussing fence encroachment with your neighbor
As we mentioned above, one of the options you have in resolving an encroachment dispute is to discuss the matter with your neighbor. This should be your first step in trying to resolve any boundary dispute. “Sometimes, they aren’t really aware that the fence they built is already on your property,” Clark explains.
This conversation could also reveal that the neighbor was aware that the fence had encroached but felt it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe the fence was installed only inches off from the boundary line. By having this conversation, “you can come up with a mutual agreement that works best for both of you,” Clark says. “At the same time, it’s much cheaper than the other options.”
If your neighbor’s fence encroaches boundary lines and the neighbor refuses to take it down, don’t call the police. The police will likely consider this a civil matter to be handled in court, which could lead to a bunch of legal fees.
However, if your neighbor becomes irate and threatens you, or becomes physical when discussing the boundary dispute, the police could be called to handle the situation. If this happens, make sure to ask for a copy of the police report. This may be helpful later when going to court with your neighbor.
2. Hiring a licensed surveyor to verify property lines
Although getting a licensed surveyor involved adds expense to the process, this will be a definitive means to prove that the fence is over the boundary lines.
David Reischer, a real estate attorney at LegalAdvice.com, advises, “Only after a licensed surveyor has conducted a survey should a fence be erected between two adjacent parcels.” If your neighbor hasn’t done this, then it will have to be proven that the fence is on the wrong side of the boundary line.
Reischer continues, “A ‘stake out survey’ will mark the ground where the legal boundary line exists. A licensed surveyor will read the deed and upon the reading of the deed with precise measurements, then mark the ground where the actual boundary line resides.”
Clark mentions, “Once you have your property surveyed, you can show a copy to your neighbor. At the same time, you can also document the process of surveying as evidence.” This could save you time and energy in the long run. After showing your neighbor the results of the survey, they will be obligated to take down the fence themselves, and likely obliged to pay for the cost of the survey.
Once you have your property surveyed, you can show a copy to your neighbor. At the same time, you can also document the process of surveying as evidence.” — David Clark, a trial lawyer and partner at The Clark Law Office
3. Check if there was a building permit
Most states require a building permit to erect a fence. Clark says, “If you live in a state that requires a building permit for fences, you can ask your neighbor if they have a permit for the fence they built.”
Clark says that one benefit of this approach is that “a permit will also state where your neighbor can build a fence, as well as where they can’t.” If they did not follow the conditions of the building permit, you may have legal recourse through the permitting office.
Fences along a boundary line
People build fences along a boundary line for a variety of reasons, including keeping wildlife off the property or clearly marking where the property line exists. However, it can get confusing to know who is responsible for a fence in this situation.
Who is required to pay for a fence on the boundary line?
This can vary by state, but often the cost of a boundary fence is the split responsibility of adjoining owners. Piedra says, “If the fence is directly on the property line, it may be considered a ‘division fence’ and state law could require both property owners to contribute to its upkeep.”
This can vary depending on if there’s a written agreement outlining the responsibilities of the upkeep and construction of the fence. The agreement could state that only one neighbor is required to pay 25%, while the other is required to pay 75%. However, the agreement could also state that one party has zero responsibility to pay for the maintenance or construction of the fence, while the other has total responsibility.
When there is no written agreement concerning the upkeep of a division fence, oftentimes both property owners are required to pay for maintenance and construction. If one property owner refuses to pay for upkeep, the other adjoining owner could take legal action. Check with your local government to see what boundary fence laws apply in your area.
If you need help paying for any necessary legal action, you may want to consider getting a personal loan to help pay for any legal fees.
Can your neighbor build a fence on the boundary line?
Although some state or local laws require a fence to be offset so many feet or inches from a boundary line, for many areas it’s acceptable to build a fence on a boundary line.
Make sure to check the local laws in your area when it comes to a fence built on a boundary line. Clark says, “One state that requires fence permission is California, with the Good Neighbor Fence Law.” This law states that a neighbor cannot construct, fix, or replace a fence without some form of forewarning.
Clark continues, “The goal of this law is to smooth out differences between neighbors and it requires a 30-day written notice.” If you live in the state of California, and your neighbor plans to build a fence on the boundary line, beware that you could be forced by law to share the costs of the fence.
Can you lose the rights to your property due to adverse possession or boundary acquiescence?
When dealing with boundary disputes, questions often arise about adverse possession and boundary acquiescence. Let’s take a look at both of these legal doctrines and see how they relate to property relinquishment.
Adverse possession explained
Can someone lose rights to a property just because there’s a fence in the wrong place? Piedra answers, “[If] the fence has been there for many years (20 years, in many jurisdictions) the neighbor may have a claim for adverse possession. This could mean they have a claim for title to the land up to and including the fence.”
This highlights the importance of taking the steps mentioned earlier in a timely fashion. On a positive note, just because a neighbor installs a fence that encroaches on the boundary line doesn’t mean they can automatically claim the property. Piedra explains, “Adverse possession is a high burden, and generally requires that the claiming property owner show many years of continued adverse use of the property in question.”
Boundary acquiescence explained
Boundary acquiescence is an additional legal issue that could arise due to encroachment. Concerning boundary acquiescence, Piedra explains, “This doctrine does not require adverse use, but rather that both property owners have treated the fence line as their property boundaries for many years.” This means that if you agree to a fence being installed on your property, you may be agreeing to give up the part of the property being encroached upon.
Piedra warns, “If there is any possibility that the neighbor will claim adverse possession or [boundary] acquiescence, taking the fence down without a court order could subject you to legal exposure.” Because of this, make sure you speak with a real estate attorney before removing your neighbor’s fence without their explicit permission.
Know your local laws
Most states have laws dictating where and how to install a fence on your property or the property line. In some places, especially in big cities or in homeowners’ associations (HOA), there are rules regulating what a fence must aesthetically look like, how tall it can be, and what type it is.
So if your neighbor’s fence is dilapidated or unsightly, you may be able to have it removed by talking with your HOA.
Can I do anything to have my neighbor’s ugly fence taken down?
Piedra answers, “If the objection to the fence is mere aesthetics, there probably isn’t any legal recourse available. If the fence is in significant disrepair, there could be more options available. Many states also have spite fence laws which prohibit fences over a certain height when the purpose of the fence is to interfere with or annoy a neighbor.”
Can you force a neighbor to replace a fence?
Unfortunately, you likely can’t force your neighbors to remove their fence “unless the fence is a division fence directly on the property line and in disrepair, or the fence violates local or state law,” Piedra says. “Generally speaking, property owners have the right to use their properties as they wish. If the fence is entirely on your neighbor’s property (even if just by a foot) they likely do not have to replace it, even if it is ugly or in disrepair.”
Can I put up a fence next to my neighbor’s fence?
Provided you don’t violate any spite fence laws and erect the fence on your own property, “[generally] speaking, there would be nothing prohibiting you from putting a fence up your own property, even if it is mere inches from the neighbor’s fence,” says Piedra.
“An exception would be if your fence violated a state’s spite fence law, which bars landowners from erecting fences over a certain height for the purpose of harassing or otherwise damaging a neighbor. A spite fence is considered a legal nuisance and a court could order its removal.”
- A fence that encroaches on the boundary line without consent can be removed.
- Talk out the matter with the neighbor before taking down the fence to come to a mutual agreement and avoid unnecessary legal expenses.
- Boundary lines must be surveyed to prove that encroachment has taken place.
- Some areas require building permits or advanced notice before building a fence.
- Leaving the fence without handling the situation properly could later lead to adverse possession or boundary by acquiescence claims.
View Article Sources
- CHAPTER 2. Obligations of Owners — California Legislative Information
- Adverse possession — Legal Information Institute
- SuperMoney Guide to Property Value: 4 Critical Factors that Determine the Value of Property — SuperMoney
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