Good fences make good neighbours, as the old proverb goes. But for some neighbourly relationships, a good fence can actually be the source of conflict.
If you’re looking to score yourself some privacy and clearly establish the boundary between your house and your neighbour’s, a good fence may be a high priority. Before you start building, though, you should familiarise yourself with the legal responsibilities involved.
Who pays to build a fence?
If you’re building a fence to divide your neighbour’s property from your own, the responsibility for financing the fence’s construction depends on whether both neighbours will use the fence. In other words, are both properties fully enclosed by fencing attached to the boundary fence? If both neighbours have fully-fenced properties divided by a boundary fence, the responsibility to pay for the boundary fence is split 50/50.
This can get a bit tricky if one neighbour wants a much more extravagant fence than the other. If this is the case, the neighbour demanding the fancier fencing must pay the difference in cost between their preferred fencing and a sufficient dividing fence. If you’re picky when it comes to pickets and palings, you might want to offer to pay more to save yourself from disputes down the road.
If you and your neighbour can’t agree on splitting the cost of the fence, a court can decide the issue and compel your neighbour to split the cost. Obviously, it’s best to reach an agreement on your own without letting the situation get quite so antagonistic.
There is one important caveat when it comes to splitting the cost of a fence. Before you agree to pay and begin building, you’ll want to ensure that the fence is built on the actual boundary between the properties. In many states, a fence that strays onto one neighbour’s land is owned by that property owner, even if both neighbours paid to construct it.
What kind of fence can be built?
A dividing fence between properties must be deemed a “sufficient” fence. While the definition of a sufficient fence varies slightly from state to state, and even from one council to the next, there are a few general guidelines:
Generally, it should be no more than four feet tall at the front of the property and no more than six feet tall at the back.
It must meet local council guidelines for materials and construction.
It must sufficiently restrain trespass by grazing livestock (not generally a big problem in the city).
Who pays for repairs?
In most states, the cost of the repair and maintenance of a dividing fence is shared equally by neighbours. This means that if the fence is in need of repair or maintenance, you and your neighbour must discuss and agree upon the maintenance and then split the cost of returning the fence to a reasonable state of repair.
In the case of emergency repairs, it’s unnecessary to first discuss the repairs with your neighbour. You can have the repairs undertaken yourself and then ask your neighbour to reimburse you afterwards.
If you can’t agree that the fence needs repairs, most states will allow you to have an assessment undertaken to determine whether or not repairs are needed. Should it be determined that repairs are required, you can serve your neighbour with a Fencing Notice, a formal written notice that you intend to undertake repairs and will expect them to contribute to the cost.
Should your neighbour still refuse to contribute or fail to reply to your Fencing Notice, you can apply to your state’s administrative tribunal for a Fencing Order. A Fencing Order will compel your neighbour to pay their share for repairs and maintenance.
More about fencing
While the above is a good general guide, fencing regulations vary slightly from one state or territory to the next. To find the local laws governing fencing construction, repairs and maintenance that apply to you, click on your state or territory below.