If you live in a neighborhood like me, chances are you share a fence with your neighbors. It’s important to know which of you own the fence so you know who needs to care for and maintain the fence.
Fences on property lines, known as boundary or partition fences, are owned equally by all property owners that use the land up to the fence, have another fence attached to the boundary fence, or have their entire property enclosed by fencing attached to the boundary fence.
As it turns out, there isn’t one singular owner of the fence on your property line. If there is a fence on your property line, even if you were the one to build it, it’s more than likely that you share ownership of that fence with your neighbors according to the law.
How Do I Know If I’m Using The Boundary Fence?
While every state and local area have their own ordinances for how fence ownership works, they generally agree that if you are using the fence, you are a part-owner.
That’s all well and good, but how do you know if you are using the fence?
The general definition among state and local ordinances is that if the fence is on the property line and you are benefitting from the fence unless a prior agreement was made, you own the section of fence you use, along with anyone else that meets those requirements.
How do you know if you are benefitting from the fence?
- Do you use the land going up to the fence?
- Have you attached any other fencing to the boundary fence?
- Is your entire property enclosed by fencing that is attached to the boundary fence?
If you live in a subdivision and have a fence in your backyard, you own the sections of fence that you use. However, so do any of your neighbors that use that fence.
What Does it Mean for Me if I am an Owner of the Fence?
Owning the fence sounds cool in principle, but considering you aren’t the sole owner of the fence, there is a responsibility on both your shoulders and your neighbor’s.
The owner(s) of the boundary fence is responsible for the maintenance and care of the fence; remember that’s anyone that uses the fence. This also means that should there be a need for a new fence, they must pay equally for the fence they use.
It’s important to know that you are only responsible for the amount of fence that you use. Should you only use a section of the fence, you are only responsible for that section.
If you are wanting to replace the boundary fence with a new fence, or repair the existing one, the other owners of the fence are required by law to pay equally for the cost of the fence.
It’s best to confer with the other owners of the fence if you intend to make changes to it, especially considering they are also responsible for the costs and maintenance of the fence.
Regardless, if you make changes to the fence, they need to help pay for it. You can approach this in a few different ways:
- Write a letter to them explaining that you want to replace the fence or repair it, why you want to do so, and that they need to help pay for it.
- Make the changes without talking to them about it and then demand payment from them afterward.
- Communicate with them and build it together
- Discuss with each other whether the fence needs replacing or not. You can also ask a “fence viewer” to effectively audit the fence and see if it actually needs repairs and that the proposed cost to repair is accurate.
- If they refuse to pay for it you can take them to court and sue them for the reimbursement. (We recommend that this be the absolute last course of action you take; remember that communication is king.)
When in doubt, make sure to read up on your state and local ordinances, and your HOA covenants if you are part of one, to know precisely what your responsibilities are. The number of potential headaches solved will be well worth the time spent reading them.
If I Build a Fence on My Property, Will it Count as a Boundary Fence?
If you are planning on building a fence on your property, you do have to be careful, as there are some things to keep in mind to prevent disagreements and potential lawsuits.
First off, always talk to your neighbors before building a fence. Even if you don’t build the fence on the property line, it’s still neighborly to at least advise them that you are building a fence.
Fences for a garden or something that is not close to the property line and on your property are owned by you, so don’t expect a neighbor to help pay for that.
When you do talk to them about the fence, you could even discuss building it on the property line and splitting the cost if they are interested in that.
We can’t stress this enough, so we’ll say it again:
Always talk to your neighbor before you build a fence, whether it will be built on the property line or not.
Remember that fences built directly on property lines are considered boundary fences. Depending on what the state and local ordinances are, the fence should be built anywhere from 2 to 8 inches away from the property line.
Consult your state and local ordinances before building a new fence.
The worst thing would be to think you are safe and then to find out that you didn’t put the fence back far enough and your neighbor now owes you money for the fence. That is one quick way to anger a neighbor.
Keep in mind that you will have to still maintain the part of your property outside of the newly built fence, seeing as it will still be your property.
Now you know the answer to who really owns that fence in your backyard, and what to do about it.