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How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

Posted by mdoats (My Page) on
Tue, Aug 7, 07 at 0:36

I'd love to hear some thoughts on how best to avoid any potential fence problem with my neighbors. An ounce of prevention...

I bought a house 3 years ago with LOTS of deferred maintenance. The rotting side fences are one of the things that needs to be updated. (Front and back are fine)

So... I was talking to my very nice new neighbor about fences and he mentioned that they would be willing to pay half the cost. And it sounds like we're interested in the same kind of fence, so it may work out.

What I'd like to know is are there any potential issues you foresee with splitting the cost of a fence? Who ends up "owning" the fence and does it really matter? It would probably need to be on my property since their yard is very narrow on that side. So does that mean that it would technically be my fence? Does it matter who owns it for anything other than maintenance purposes? Insurance maybe?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

Speak to an RE lawyer because you don't want to act just on opinions from here and then find out later it's wrong (and end up with all kinds of consequences). What's on your property is yours of course, but then would your neighbour be paying half just for the pleasure of having privacy even if it's not on his land? There are too many issues to guess at.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

if your neighbor agrees to pay half, then you should get it in writing. go into this prepared to pay the full cost and HOPE that he pays you back.

the fence will belong to whoever's property it is located on. if your property, then it is your fence and he will have no legal obligation to pay you without a contract.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

I'm lucky enough to have lawyers in the family, so I'll get all the legal angles covered before I do anything definitive. I'm not quite ready to do that yet though and I was just wondering if anyone here had any thoughts or stories in the meantime. Also anything that I should specifically ask my lawyer sister about.

I should have made that clearer. Thanks for sharing with me!


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

Do you have a survey of the lot lines? Are the markers visible? Even if you and your current neighbor agree on where you think the boundries are, it would be good to check. That seems to come up here fairly frequently.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

ok, a story for you concerning a verbal agreement to split costs.

my parents were replacing sections of the fence around their back yard. the back run actually belonged to the rear neighbor so my stepdad approached him about replacing it. he said he would split the cost, to go ahead and get the guys started. well, the day they started he came out and ran them off his side of the fence, basically told them to work from our side. when my stepdad gave him the bill for his half, he took it without a word and now hides if he sees someone outside. since the agreement was verbal, there is nothing that can be done. my parents had to pay for the whole thing.

the fence was literally falling down, and he KNEW my parents had to replace it since they have an inground pool and local ordinance requires a minimum 6 ft fence around the yard with one. this was why he never fixed the fence in the first place.

so if you do this, be prepared to pay for it all. then hope to get your money back.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

"Do you have a survey of the lot lines? "

You need more than the typical improvement location survey.
These normally contain a note that they are NOT to be used to places fences or improvements.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

If you are going to put the fence fully on your property, I don't see how you can expect your neighbor to pay for half. If you're going to split the cost, wouldn't the fence have to be directly on the property line? And if you put it on the line, and the neighbor owns half, what's to prevent him from painting it purple? or hanging all sorts of stuff on it (wash, tacky decorations, whatever).

You do need to speak to a REAL ESTATE attorney (a specialist) for the best advice here.

But if it were me, I'd prefer to put the fence totally on my property and pay for the whole thing myself, so I had full control of it. Which actually is what we did when we fenced in our back yard.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

We're planning to put our fence totally on our property, but will offer our neighbors the opportunity to paint the side facing their house the color of their choice (within reason). Our house is uphill from theirs, so as you're driving up our street you'll see our fence higher than their house, and if the color doesn't coordinate with their house I think it'll look strange.

That said, we're going to give them a choice from a set of possible colors that we're picking, because from their property you'll see the fence with our house above it, so "their side" of the fence has to look good with our house colors, too. We will pay for the paint, as the fence is 100% on our property. Basically, what they get for their labor is their choice of color.

If they elect not to paint "their side" of the fence, then we'll just pick whatever color we think works best (from the same set of choices we gave them) and paint "their side" ourselves.

Do y'all think this will work?


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

If it were my husband and I, we'd let them paint it whatever color pleases them.
I'm astounded at the number of fence/lot line conflicts out there! We built a 6 foot high stucco wall in back of our house which partly involved using the back wall of our neighbor's garage. To have continued that section of a freestanding wall within our property line but in front of his garage wall would have been bad for both our wall and his garage. We're patching his garage stucco for him (it needed it), painting the lower half our wall color and the upper part his garage color. We stuccoed his side of the freestanding part of the wall as well, and he can paint that any color he wants. We talked to him in person first before we did anything, we listened, and we were prepared to be flexible. No lawyers, no official written agreements, and it was a win-win situation. Everyone's happy. Here's a picture of the area showing as much as we have done so far:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

YOur wall looks, great, KIM! The problem with letting our neighbors paint "their side" of our fence is that you'll see our house above the top of the fence and we don't want the colors to clash. I'm sure we can come up with 5-6 suggested colors that work well with BOTH their home and ours.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

Thank you!--and I hope you're able to come to a very satisfactory agreement with your neighbors!


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

susi, what does it matter if the colors clash? as you said, it will look like the fence is your neighbors, so who cares. if you want to make sure it does not clash, then paint it yourself.

one problem with putting a fence totally on your property, and this varies by location, is laws of adverse possession. i know of several folks here who lost a strip of their land due to putting a fence a couple feet back from teh line. the neighbor on teh other side of the fence took care of that strip for so long that it became theirs. this will not happen in all locations, but is possible. around here the law looks at it like you feel your line is the fence, and therefore just gave the strip to the other party.

when we bought our house the neighbor next to us had a 6ft wood fence down the side of his property. within a couple weeks he took it down and moved it out 4 ft to the lot line. this was on advice from his attorney. his stepdad owned our house before us, so he just put the fence where he wanted, but once we bought he moved it on out to the line to keep from us claiming adverse possession of his land.

i highly recommend checking with a local REA before doing so.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

davidandkasie, would your neighbor's 4-foot strip have been subject to adverse possession if they tended it on some minimal schedule? Say, if they sprayed Roundup on it a few times a year (assuming they could reach it)?


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

i dunno if his would be subject to it or not. around here if you allow someone else to do all teh maintenance to an area they can claim adverse possession after a few years. i am not sure of the exact time but i think it is around 5 years. i do know of instances where someone had a fence and the neighbor did not. the fence was not at the line and later the neighbor connected to this fence to fence in "their" backyards. in each of these cases, the strip inside the neighbors fence was deemed to be theirs after a few years. my grandmother and grandfather actually picked up a 90x6 strip along their back fence this way. they never knew until a the new owners of the house behind them wanted to plant soemthing there. they had always assumed the land was theirs from the start. they told the guy to buzz off and there was nothing he could do. of course, this happened after they had lived there and maintained that area for 25+ years too.

another oddity is if you pay the taxes on an abandoned property for 3 years in a row you can claim it as yours. you must exercise due diligence in attempting to reach teh true landowner, you cannot just pay his taxes for him and never attempt to reach him. i have only heard of this one happening twice, but according to the tax office here it is a legitimate way of attaining land. from what i understand it dates back to right after the civil war. there was a lot of land that belong to people who were either dead or no longer living here. the only way to get it moving was to allow someone else to pay the taxes and assume ownership. works the same way as a tax sale, but this way it does not have to be auctioned. the original owner has 3 years from the first time you pay in order to reclaim their property, after that it is yours free and clear.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

My neighbor also offered to pay for half of the fence that we were planning to put in. They had just purchased the home next to us. I told her we would pay for it all since we were already planning on this expense long before they purchased the place. I personally think it was a control factor - so she could decide on what kind of fence goes in, and yes, she DID want a say in it. Being neighborly, I let her make that decision with us, considering that she was going to be fencing in her entire yard and wanted everything to be consistent. I can understand that.

We both agreed on a style, but we didn't budge on the ownership. We paid for it ourselves, to alleviate any confusion or future legal matters. Insurance companies often times won't cover damages to a fence unless it is physically attached to your garage or home where they intersect (as opposed to attaching it to a post in the ground). Think of how confusing that would be if something were to happen to the fence - whose homeowners insurance covers it if you both own it? Then you get into the issue of asking your neighbor to pay for half of your out of pocket costs?? Is your neighbor going to pay the increase in your insurance rates if you have to file an insurance claim on the fence?

I think it's best just to claim ownership of it yourself, and avoid any confusion with the next owners of your home. And who's to say that if you move out, the neighbor still has ownership of it if it's on your property? Legally, that may not be the case. That's only going to cause problems for the next owner.

Where I live, the "good" side of the fence is to be facing my neighbors house if it's my fence on my property. Keep it simple. Give the neighbors the good side, pay for it yourself and call it your own. There will be no confusion, and you will not have any regrets later on.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

The adverse possession thing is a very real issue. Laws vary from state to state - it is 7 years here where I live, I know from sad mistakes made by my inlaws.

I would suggest your first move should however be to get a surveyor to place survey stakes for your fence. Explain the situation - they are often called upon to testify in real estate cases. Most will give you a bit of free advice from their experience and that can be VERY helpful to you in formulating the questions for the lawyer which will be your next appointment. Those guys charge by the minute, so you want to be concise. I would suggest you draft a short written explanation / list of questions, then schedule time with the lawyer and have him read it and provide verbal answers. I'd make my last question "Is there anything else we need to know - please give a brief response?"


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

"we didn't budge on the ownership" smart move! We did the same, no hassles that way. You may get along with your current neighbor, but you don't know WHO may move in later on. Or when the fence needs to be replaced, if they don't want or can't pay - what then?


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

I spoke with my sister (who is also my lawyer!), and I also spoke with the neighbor. The neighbor is planning to fence the whole yard, and would like the fence to match all the way around. So... here's my current plan:

- I'm going to "donate" some money towards the fence. My neighbor will own the fence.
- In addition to donating money towards the fence, I'm going to allow the installers access to my property for the installation.
- The fence will be built on the same line that it is currently built.
- The old fence posts are cemented into a 3 inch tall cement curb underneath the fence. I'm agreeing that it can be removed for easier installation of the new fence.

So... no change in property lines and clear ownership of the fence.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

I suggest you do get everything on paper, not just the amount of money you're putting in, but if possible something to the effect of future consequences - e.g. that neither of you will have cause to complain about the issue in future, and where the property lines really are, etc. and you both sign in good faith.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

If your neighbor is going to pay for half the fence then it should be put on the property line. If your neighbor is not willing to pay for half the fence, then you need to put it fully on your property. It is a benefit for a neighbor to not have to pay and have the fence fully on your property, because then he gets to utilize a bigger yard. So, if your neighbor is willing to pay for half the fence, then I would go for it and put the fence on the property line.

We are in a lawsuit right now regarding adverse possession. The requirements for adverse possession are that you have used and maintained it exclusively for at least 5 years and you have paid all taxes levied on the property for the last 5 years. So, as long as you keep paying taxes on the piece of property on the other side of the fence, then the land will remain yours. That is here in California and I don't know if it is different in different states.


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

Its my understanding you do not really own your land the goverment does hence property taxes.
If people were allowed to consume thier nieghbors property because the fence was placed to far back on the line it would result in people selling off tracks of their land to their nieghbors when they're broke and would make property lines difficult at best almost every one would own at least the standard set back of 2 to 4 inches most fences ate placed multiply that by the length of the fence and that can add up to footage who ever payes the taxes owns the land.
If you dont want to maintain the yard on what is your nieghbors dirt don't


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RE: How best to avoid a fence problem with neighbors

"Its my understanding you do not really own your land the goverment does hence property taxes. "

To bad this "understanding" is wrong.


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