It's probably one of those things you don't think about until you invest in a house and have next door neighbors - but your backyard fence is actually considered a shared asset. When fences are built on property boundary lines, they are called shared fences - and they are jointly owned by both neighbors. This means that decisions about building or replacing fences need to be made together with your neighboring homeowners.
Maybe you're looking for a privacy fence, or want to try out a new style of fence to increase curb appeal because you're considering selling your home. Step one is to start talking to your neighbors and come up with a plan that works for everyone. Once you've agreed on a plan and are ready to move forward, the first step is to determine where your property line is.
You may already have a good idea of where the boundary is between your property and your neighbor's, and even if there is already a fence there, you should still consider legally establishing the property line before building or replacing a fence. This will help you avoid running into legal arguments or having to hire a real estate attorney down the line. This is true even if you currently have a friendly relationship with the other property owners you want to have a shared fence with.
There are a few ways to determine the boundary with your neighbor's property. You could get in contact with your county or title company to find out if they have records of the property line. Another place to look is the tax assessor's office or property records department. Finally, you could hire a surveyor and have the land surveyed to create a legal record of the property boundaries.
If you already have an existing fence that you plan to replace, getting evidence of the property line and double checking the boundary will confirm that it is constructed where it should be. And if you don't have a fence and are wanting to build one, it will let you know where to have it built.
This is important because if the fence turned out to be wholly on your own property, the cost of the fence and any fence maintenance or upkeep would be your financial responsibility instead of a shared investment with your neighbor. Confirming your property boundary could also help you avoid a situation where you've invested in a fence but find out later that it has been built on your neighbor's property and having to take it down and start over from scratch.
In some cases when a new fence is built on a shared boundary line, the cost of the fence is paid for equally by both neighbors. This is true even if one neighbor wants the fence and the other one doesn't, because both neighbors are assumed to benefit from the fence equally. Check to see if your state has such laws in place about splitting the cost for shared fences.
This does not apply if one neighbor wants a fence upgrade for aesthetic reasons. They can't force you to pay for a replacement fence unless there was something structurally wrong with the previous fence. Both neighbors must reasonably benefit from the shared fence to share costs. There are other circumstances in which a new fence on a shared property line might not end up being a shared cost, such as the price of a fence putting an unreasonable financial burden on one neighbor.
If you do go ahead and put up a fence on a shared boundary line, there are other costs to keep in mind. After the new fence has been constructed, neighbors will continue to share costs of upkeep and fence repairs.
Some of the laws about shared fences differ from place to place. For details on paying for a new fence on a shared boundary line in your specific area, you'll need to look up the local rules. Local ordinances, state laws and regulations, homeowners associations, land-use restrictions, and more all have a role to play in determining who pays for boundary fences between neighbors.
If you are splitting the bill with a neighbor, ask your contractor if they offer split billing. Ergeon can provide bill splitting and invoice each neighbor separately to make the process more seamless.
Local fence laws can differ depending on where you live, so it's a good idea to double-check what the regulations say about responsibility for shared fences on property lines. You can use any search engine to find local ordinances. Just type in your city and state plus "local ordinances" and you should get several results of websites that contain libraries of the local laws. These are usually searchable by topic, so enter in "shared fence" to see if there are any city-specific rules.
Keep in mind that if there are no city rules, you'll need to look at county-level regulations and see if there are any that apply. Sometimes there are state-wide laws that govern this issue.
For example, California fence law says that "adjoining landowners" are presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their properties and, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties in a written agreement, shall be presumed to be equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence." You can find out more about the law here.
To search your state's laws on shared fences, type in your state's name plus "shared fence" laws. Like city ordinances, this should return several options for websites that contain state laws. From there, search for the topic of "shared fence."
Besides the issue of who pays for a shared fence, there are other important questions that arise during the process.
One common question when building a shared fence is this: who gets the outside of the fence and who gets the inside? With a typical nail up fence, one side will have the posts and stringers while the other will have presentable panels. This is something you should discuss with your neighbor when first coming to an agreement about the new fence. One of you could agree to take the outside and the other the inside of the fence. Or, with a good neighbor fence you don't have to worry about that issue. A good neighbor fence is constructed differently than a normal fence so that both sides of the fence are the same and show smooth paneling.
Another question related to shared fences are fence height regulations. Like many fence construction activities, this is regulated at the local level, so you will have to check what your city allows. In many cases, a front yard fence can be up to four feet tall while a backyard fence can be up to six feet tall. The City and County planning departments are the authorities who enforce these code restrictions and the ones who issue the corresponding permits when needed. In some places, you need a permit regardless of how high your fence is.
Finally, what do you do if you have a dispute with your neighbor over a project to construct a shared fence? In that case, you could hire an attorney who can clarify the details of your local ordinances and laws that govern shared fences.