Sharing a fence
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The Fence is NOT Your Problem- or is it?

December 12, 2016
Sharing a fence

Mark Twain wrote, “The higher the fence, the nicer the neighbor.”

Of course, we hope that it doesn’t apply to your neighbors but a fence is clearly an important part of the exterior of your home. It tells everyone the boundaries of your property and if you have pets, it will keep them from roaming onto your neighbor’s property.

New homeowners who are looking to build positive relationships with their new neighbors will find the choice of fence can be critical. So there are a few things you can do before fencing yourself in or out of the neighborhood.

An Existing Fence

First, if there is an existing fence, see if it needs to be repaired or replaced. A broken fence can tell you about who is on the other side, and what lies ahead in your long term relationship with your neighbors. A fence that is in total disrepair and unsightly will need to be replaced, and you will likely get some positive feedback from the neighborhood.

If you thought this would be easy, you will be disappointed because there is the legal aspect of fencing. There are two main areas to be concerned with – state laws and zoning ordinances. Putting up the wrong type of fence, or not recognizing that trees and bushes can qualify as a fence, can have you end up in court. Laws regarding fences depend on the state you live in, so be sure to do your homework before planning.

Building a Fence

You can build a fence just inside your property line, in which case all you have to do is to check your local laws and ordinances and move forward. However, if you are building a fence on the property line, then you will have to knock on the neighbor’s door and invite them over to discuss the fence. In California, a new law is based on the fact that a fence is mutually beneficial to both parties. In plain English, that means you both agree a fence is a good idea for both of you.  The good news is that both you and your neighbor will split the cost of the fence.

In general, there are ordinances that will limit what type of fence you can build. Some of the basics are:

  • Height – fences higher than 4 – 6 feet will generally require permission, called a variance, from the zoning board.
  • Heeding property lines – remember to build the fence inside of the property line.
  • HOA – Homeowners Associations (HOA) likely will have a standard requirement for fence building that may be more restrictive than the zoning ordinances, so be sure to ask.
  • Permits – be sure to have all the required permits before starting.

Remember that a fence makes a statement, not only to your neighbor but to the neighborhood as a community. Be sure to keep the fence in good repair. Place the fence so it’s best side faces your neighbor or the neighborhood.


Fences can be damaged by a neighbor or other person. Should damage occur, get pictures. If the fence is jointly owned (see California above) then find common ground on the cost of any repairs regardless who damaged the fence.

Whatever type of fence you build, know that the best way to minimize problems and end up having to go to court is:

1) create a means of open communication between you and your neighbors
2) get everything in writing

Finally, a fence is a way of communicating with your neighbors. This is especially true if you have different lifestyles. Some people like their privacy, so a high fence is not necessarily a sign of animosity but a message of privacy. However you get along with your neighbors, remember that once you get a basic understanding of how they live you will be able to understand the meaning of their fence – or your choice to build one.



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