An old saying goes "good fences make good neighbors." But what happens when fences cause neighbors to disagree?
One situation that can confuse property owners about their rights and responsibilities is when a fence is located directly on a property line. In many jurisdictions, this is referred to as a "partition fence," which is loosely defined as a fence located on the division line between two adjoining properties.
Local fence laws determine who is responsible for paying for and maintaining partition fences, so it is important to check your state and local ordinances. However, in most jurisdictions, both property owners must equally pay for and maintain a fence that runs on or close to a property line.
This is typically true even if one neighbor made a unilateral decision to erect the fence. The reason both neighbors are on the hook for the cost and maintenance of a partition fence is because it's assumed that both neighbors benefit from the fence.
In practice, this means that if Neighbor A decides to build a fence on the property line shared with Neighbor B, Neighbor B generally has to pay for half of it. Additionally, Neighbor B is responsible for maintaining the fence (and yard that leads up to the fence) on his or her side. If the fence is damaged or in need of replacement, generally, both Neighbor A and Neighbor B must pay for repairs or replacement 50/50.
Unfortunately, the laws in many areas don't go much further beyond the rule that both property owners must pay for and maintain boundary fences equally, so it's up to the neighbors to work out details such as how much notice Neighbor A has to provide Neighbor B before erecting a fence, what kind of fence should be erected, or whether a fence is in both parties' budgets.
If you happen to live in California or another area with a more detailed ordinance, you may have additional guidance. For example, California Civil Code 841, also known as the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013, provides extensive protocol on paying for and maintaining boundary fences, including: "Where a landowner intends to incur costs for a fence, the landowner shall give 30-days prior written notice to each affected adjoining landowner."
If you are involved in a dispute with a neighbor about paying for, maintaining, or repairing a fence that separates your properties, you may want to consider mediation or contacting a real estate attorney in your area to help you resolve the issue.