Who is responsible for the fence between you and your neighbor?

Which side of the fence is mine?

What would you say in the following scenario? “Part of my fence fell down in a storm and I’m not sure whose responsibility it is to fix it. I’ve heard that if the framed side of the fence is facing you, it’s your fence, but I’d like to have a little more info before discussing with my neighbor.” Similarly, you may want to find out who’s responsible for painting and maintaining the fence between you and your neighbor’s properties.

The problem becomes even more complicated when fences don’t follow the legal property line. This is because the ownership of the fence depends not on who pays for it, or which way the “good side” is facing, but on where it stands.

If you think about it, it’s easy to see how homeowners who didn’t put up the fence themselves, but moved into a fenced property could be confused about fence ownership.

If four houses in a row have fenced in back yards that share a single back fence wall, between each property there will be five flank fences. One of these four houses, therefore, must be responsible for both its flank boundaries.

Are all of the houses are responsible for the boundary on their left and one of them is also responsible for the fence on its right? Or are they all responsible for the fence on their right while one of them is also responsible for the fence on the left? We don’t know for sure which house is responsible for the boundaries on both sides, nor is it clear who owns the back wall fence. Would that be the responsibility of these property owners or the people who live in the houses in the parallel street behind?

When a shared fence needs upkeep or even replacement, good neighbors can get into conflicts that may be difficult for them to resolve. It’s best to have a talk with your neighbor to calmly discuss these issues. It helps to know who owns a fence between houses beforehand so you can both have all the information you need to discuss it properly.

A fence border may lie between your property line and public property, such as the street in front of your home. Without another party to share responsibility, and since you regularly see both sides of the fence you want both sides of the fence to look good to you.

Who owns which fence?

Homeowners may find that their property borders someone else’s with a fence between them. Some people assume the rule of thumb is that the homeowner owns the fence on its left side, as you look at it from the street. There is no written law that proves this to be true. There is no general rule about whether you own the fence on the left or the fence on the right of your property.

Find the paperwork

To be entirely sure, however, you will need to check the title deeds for your house. If you own your home you should find a copy in your paperwork. If the information is not listed on the title plans, you’ll have to check the plans that are registered with the municipality. When looking at the plans, the ownership is indicated by a “T” marked on the plans on one side of a boundary.

• If the “T” is written on your side of the boundary, you’re responsible for maintaining it.
• If there’s a H (although actually it’s two joined Ts) the boundary is the joint responsibility of both parties.

If the deeds are silent on the question of responsibility for the fence, the information may be given in the Seller’s Property Information Form you received when you bought your property. If the situation is still unclear, observe the established pattern of fence ownership along the same side of the street as a possible method to infer responsibility.

What needs to be done with the fence?

The side of the fence that falls under your responsibility may sometimes depend on what needs to be done with the fence.

The fence may require painting or other work to maintain it’s appearance. In this case, the only side of the fence that is your responsibility is the side facing your property. What the other side of the fence looks like wouldn’t matter to you since don’t see it and it isn’t facing the public.

What if the fence needs actual repair? A metal or vinyl fence can fall apart or break. A board-on-board, picket, stockade, rail, or plank wooden fence, can suffer damage even more easily than metal, concrete, or other high-strength materials. Structural damage can happen through normal aging or because of an impact from a fallen tree branch, intruder, wildlife or careless driver. Such damage normally shows on both sides of the fence. If the damage doesn’t bother your neighbor but does bother you, you’ve got a common problem: who is responsible for fixing and maintaining a shared fence?

There isn’t much you can do if your neighbor is adamant about not repairing their fence or has not shown any interest in doing so. You could put up your own fence alongside your neighbor’s, within your property line. Then there will be two fences running alongside each other, with yours hiding the look of your neighbor’s fence from your view.

What Side of The Fence Is Yours?

In many locations, according to Findlaw, the responsibility for a boundary fence is by law automatically divided among the property owners who enjoy the benefits of the fence. Most neighbors understand this and will voluntarily agree to taking some responsibility for fence repairs and maintenance. When fence maintenance or upgrades become necessary, such “good neighbors” will readily do their part and pay their share of the costs.

Because ownership of the fence is shared, neither neighbor may change it, move it, or remove it without first obtaining permission from the others who also share ownership of that fence.

A dispute over fence responsibilities and expenses can potentially create bad feelings between neighbors. Communicate with your neighbor about your shared fence before a tree branch takes it out and forces you to confront the costs of repair or replacement. If neighbors refuse to contribute for shared fence repairs, you may have to contact municipal authorities, file a small claims case, or even hire a lawyer.

Who put up the fence?

A landowner who builds a boundary fence without getting agreement from the adjoining neighbor first has no right to require that neighbor to contribute to the costs of construction or maintenance.

If neighbors agree in advance to jointly erect a boundary fence, then that agreement is a binding one, and both property owners become legally responsible for sharing the expenses of maintaining that shared fence.

A question may arise when one neighbor puts up a fence that requires brush or other obstacles on another’s property to be cleared in order to do the fence construction work. A fence may also travel back and forth across a property line so that it sits partly on one neighbor’s land, and partly on the other neighbor’s land.

A situation can potentially escalate to become a matter of trespass or “adverse possession” when Neighbor One erects a fence entirely on the property of Neighbor Two. This would result in stealing a strip of land from your neighbor, even if it was done by accident or intentionally. If this theft is allowed to continue for a number of years, according to state law, ownership of the land in question may legally transfer to the intruding neighbor, even if this transfer occurs without compensation. In such a case, you must take active legal steps early in the process to preserve rightful ownership of the land in question.

Who Owns the Good Side of the Fence?

When it comes to ownership and responsibility for a fence, which property owner enjoys the “good side” of the fence?

Fences usually have a “good” or attractive side that shows a more finished appearance, and a “bad” or less attractive side that often reveals the fence’s structural elements such as posts and board-supporting rails.

One trend is the rise of the “good neighbor fence”. Good neighbor fences alternate the picket and rail side of the fence every panel so that each neighbor gets an equal share of the pretty and ugly sides. In some areas, fences are required to have the picket side facing any public roads. These rules keep up appearances for passing drivers and pedestrians and prevent trespassers from climbing over your fence using the rails.

The sides of the fence that face a homeowner have no bearing at all on who owns which side of the fence.

Sharing a Fence Guidance

Property owners who want to invest in a new fence may be wondering how to get their fence fixed while honoring their relationships with their neighbors. Have a conversation with your neighbor about both of you getting a new fence, and comply with HOA guidelines.

Fence ownership is determined by where your fence lays on the property line. If your fence is right on the property line between your property and your neighbor, neither of you owns a side – the fence can be considered a shared responsibility. If the fence falls to one side of the property line, it is wholly owned by the property owner whose side it’s on.

Will you be sharing your fence? It’s important to know this before you buy. If you share a fence with your neighbor, be courteous and have a conversation with them about any changes you’d like to make. They may be willing to split the cost of the fence with you. You may be able to work out taking turns to care for your fencing regarding maintenance or painting.

You might agree to buy out your neighbor – in this case you should go through a proper, legally recorded sale process to create proof for any future dispute or property sale. This is called a “boundary agreement” and will put everything down on paper. This can officially be recorded as an ongoing legal document – saving future owners the hassle of a fencing dispute. Working this out between yourselves is fine but it is wise to consult a legal expert to check the extent of the agreement’s powers.

If you’re part of a Homeowners Association, make sure the fence you want complies with any structural and design rules they have for new fences.

You and your neighbor are both responsible for a fence you share. Don’t make assumptions on their behalf and be considerate. It would be upsetting if a fence crew were to show up without notice – to tear down and replace a fence that they partly own. Discuss the project to see what financial and design agreements you can agree on before you make any changes to your shared fence. They may be willing to split the costs with you, and negotiate which side of the fence faces your property and which side faces theirs.

You might be surprised by what your neighbor says. So bake some cookies, knock on their door, and figure out a fence plan that works for both of you.

How do you find out if you share your fence?

The first step to finding out if you own or share your fence is understanding of where your property lines are. Property lines are marked by ground pins, which are iron rods located 6 to 10 inches underground on the outer corners of your property. They were originally installed by a licensed surveyor when the property lines were drawn.

To find the property lines yourself, use a metal detector to locate the pins surrounding your property. Put a flag where you find the pins and run some string to mark your property line.

If you can’t find your ground pins or need more exact measurements, contact a surveyor. They will use GPS coordinates to determine exactly where your property lines are. Keep the survey report they give you afterward for future reference. Some neighborhoods require a land survey before you can build any fence, shared or private or if you ever want to put up another permanent structure like a shed, gazebo or greenhouse.

Whilst garden fence responsibility can be a contentious issue, the rules and laws remain largely straightforward and cover almost all possible situations. Beyond knowing who put the fence up, or who’s property it resides on, a verbal or written agreement between the neighboring property owners determine ownership of and responsibility for the boundary fence.

Have other questions about maintaining a shared fence? We have over a decade of experience building fences on property lines. Contact us to build a fence you, your neighbor, and neighborhood can all agree on.