Problem with neighbor's fence

cyffermoonMay 20, 2010

Hi - We are new first-time homeowners (just bought last August). On one side, our neighbor's house and landscaping are beautiful. On the other side is a half-finished fence with a messy yard behind it. When we bought the house, we assumed that the neighbor was just in the middle of finishing the fence. We were wrong. It turns out the fence has been in the same state for several years, since before the previous owner bought our house. The posts are up, but the actual fencing has only extended about 15 feet into our back yard. We asked them about it and they say the intend to finish it this summer (apparently, there is not much to hanging the fence on the poles). However, this hasn't happened, even though we have offered to help, and we don't hold out a lot of hope since they have worked on other home projects in the meantime.

We intend to build our own fence next summer if their fence isn't finished by then. I have a few questions: is there some sort of requirement in terms of spacing between their fence & ours? Is there some sort of legal requirement that we give them a certain amount of notice before building our fence? Also, what would you do in our situation? Thanks.

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First of all - was it a typo that you said their fence 'only' extends 15 FEET into YOUR backyard? What? If it is not a mistake, you need to see your lawyer yesterday. If it is, does the fence extend into your property (and I will presume you know where the actual line as per a survey rather than the wave of the agent's hand) and by how much? If it's not on your property, they can do whatever they want with their fence or anything else within reason. You should put up a fence JUST on your side of the line, by an inch, maybe, acknowledging the line, but not forfeiting any of your own property. If you do forfeit for any reason, after a certain number of years the line may be considered to have moved and they could get squatter's rights to whatever property of yours has been forfeited. Definitely speak to a lawyer though, do not let them dictate what you do with your land.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 7:32PM
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Check with your town building department to find out if there are any local fence ordinances that apply. Some towns require a property line survey and have height requirements, etc. If the fence is on your neighbor's land and doesn't break any laws, I don't think there's anything you can do to force him to finish it on your timetable. I'm a little confused by your statement that "they say the intend to finish it this summer .... However, this hasn't happened" since it's not summer yet. It's possible that they have more urgent repairs to make and the fence just isn't a high priority for them.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2010 at 9:51PM
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Hi - thanks for the replies.

To larke: sorry, I meant that the fence stops about 15 feet down the property line as it extends from the front to the back yard, with roughly 40 feet unfinished. As far as whether it is on our property: we are acquainted with the couple who owned the house in the 90s (didn't realize until after we bought it), and the neighbor "made" them move their shed 3" further onto their property so he could start this fence. They tell us he claimed the shed was "right on" the property line, and if that's true this fence might be on the line. If it were actually on the line, it would be in violation of our city's ordinances, but we haven't had a survey, so we don't know. In any case, it would be "close enough", and the issue is really just that the fence is unfinished.

To dilettante - You are right, I am a little impatient. I'm also just being realistic, since it appears the fence hasn't been a priority for them for at least 9 years, maybe more. Our city ordinances don't reference anything about unfinished fences, especially since this one wouldn't require a permit. It doesn't violate codes in height or appearance, and in fact it would be a nice fence if it were finished.

We are definitely going to build a fence next spring/summer if theirs isn't finished by then. Unfortunately as it is now, all of the piles of wood and other junk in their yard are highly visible. We also want some privacy from these neighbors. Without going into too many details, it seems every time we go into the back yard to do something, the husband walks over with a list of subjects that he wants to discuss with us, and these sometimes range from slightly offensive to downright rude.

I am looking more I guess for the right etiquette in this situation rather than the rule of law. I already understand that I can't force them to do anything. I just haven't read many other examples like this one elsewhere and wanted to make sure when we do end up building our fence that we aren't breaking some informal etiquette.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 11:35AM
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If the fence is right on (or very close) to the line, maybe you could offer to finish it for your neighbors, using the materials he's already bought. That way, it would get done and you wouldn't have to build your own. Just a thought!

P.S. I'm SO glad I have nice neighbors.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 12:29PM
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They say the have all of the materials, so we may just do that some weekend. Wish us luck!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 12:40PM
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If ANYthing were to go wrong with the fence in future, you could be on the hook for it - I hope you haven't gone that route. Just put up your own fence.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 4:29PM
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Where is your survey? A legal survey? Not a closing company survey, unless your state mandates boundary line surveys.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2010 at 3:52PM
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