There are approximately 70,000 neighborhoods in the US. In 2016, a typical subdivision had a median size of 25 acres, with 17 acres dedicated to housing about 50 families. Most of those households have a fence separating their home from their neighbor's home.
Fence neighbor etiquette is essential to prevent contention between neighbors over a new or existing fence. Fence etiquette is also valuable when you want to resolve a dispute with your neighbor as smoothly as possible.
What is the Standard Fence Neighbor Etiquette?
Some standard behaviors and courtesies constitute friendly neighbor fence etiquette:
- HOA and Local Laws. Check with your HOA and local laws about any specific regulations or requirements about fence height or material. Follow their requirements so your fence does not become a point of contention for the entire neighborhood. Most localities have Good Neighbor Fence laws.
- Finances. Neighbors should share the border fence if the fence is directly on property lines or in the space between properties. They should also share the financial responsibility and maintenance. If the fence resides on one property owner's land, it is up to the owner and neighbor to determine split costs.
A neighbor does not have a legal obligation to share expenses unless local laws require it. However, it is standard fence neighbor etiquette to share construction costs and maintenance if it is reasonable for both parties.
- Communication. Talk to your neighbor about your plans. Tell them why you want to build a fence and the scope of the work that you anticipate. If the fence will split your property lines, gauge their interest to share the cost.
- Advance Notice. Local good neighbor laws typically require you to notify your neighbors with a certified letter at least 30 days before construction. These laws also usually require neighbors to split the costs 50/50 unless one neighbor proves financial hardship.
- Courteous Construction. Choose an excellent fence contractor who will be professional and efficient during construction. Remember that fence construction will impact your neighbors as much as it does your family.
- Property Lines. Have a land survey professional confirm your property lines. That way, there is no confusion over property lines and where a contractor can build. In most states, a neighbor can build a fence directly on your property line.
Many contractors will place the fence one foot inside your property lines to not build anything on your neighbor's land. However, if you build inside the property line, your neighbor eventually can sue for legal rights to the land you forfeit.
- Good & Bad Sides. It's good fence neighbor etiquette to give yourself a view of the backside of the fence. Do this whether you build a vinyl or wood fence.
Good neighbor fences, often required by law, ensure that the "good" or finished side faces your neighbor. That does not have to mean you get the "ugly side" of your investment. There are plenty of double-sided privacy fence types you can choose from.
- Height. Fence height depends on local ordinances and specific HOA rules. Most cities allow fences up to 4 feet in the front yard and up to 6 feet in the back.
- However, some municipalities will require shorter fences. Shorter fences help drivers have full visibility of traffic if your fence borders a street or public space. They cannot build a fence as a blatant attempt to annoy you, e.g., 15 feet tall.
- Maintenance. It is your responsibility to maintain both sides of the fence if it acts as the boundary line. That kind of fence is called a boundary fence. You should maintain it even if your town does not have a good neighbor fence law.
Fence maintenance includes cleaning, repairs, and painting. However, it is common for neighbors to agree to share equal maintenance responsibilities for their respective sides.
- Mitigate Damages. Discuss removing risks before construction. Remove trees, other vegetation, animals, or termites that pose a risk of damaging the fence.
Good Neighbor Fences - What are They?
A good neighbor fence typically refers to a wooden privacy fence or other fence styles that are identical on both sides.
It is common for a fence to have a "good" side and a "bad" side. But a good neighbor fence is double-sided, so both sides are pleasing and finished.
A good neighbor privacy fence gives both parties a finished view. It essentially comports with fence neighbor etiquette to place your fence's finished side toward your neighbor. You share an equal benefit.
There are state fencing laws that articulate other aspects of property line demarcation. There are also local laws that regulate when and where to construct good neighbor fences. Also, your HOA may have specific stipulations about fence styles that may mandate good neighbor fences.
Double-Sided vs. Single-Sided Fences
There are many types of fences and fence designs. A single-sided fence is a fence with a backside and a front side, also known as a finished side. You can see every fence post and board on the backside.
A double-sided privacy fence is another term for a good neighbor fence. Neither posts nor boards are visible on either side. Therefore, both homeowners get the same finished view from their yard. Consequently, it does not matter which way a builder constructs double-sided vinyl or cedar fencing.
How to Communicate With Your Neighbors About a Fence
The first rule of fence neighbor etiquette is to keep communication lines open. Do this always, from the time you construct a new fence or replace an existing structure.
Before you begin the construction process, let your neighbor know your plans. When you first broach the subject, it is important to emphasize the mutual benefit of a new attractive, effective fence. Here's a sample letter to the neighbor that you can customize for your specific situation.
If you want to replace a boundary fence, you should send them a similar letter that outlines the following:
- Why you want to replace the fence
- Your plans for replacement
- What the neighbor will gain from a new fence
You can use this sample letter to your neighbor about replacing or repairing a fence.
Once you have the neighbor's permission to continue building plans, experts recommend making that permission official with a written agreement. Here is a simple sample agreement that grants permission. You can also customize this longer sample fence agreement between neighbors, which also outlines responsibility for maintenance or necessary replacement.
When construction starts, you should keep your neighbor informed of the progress. Be the first to tell them if a problem arises. It is a nice gesture to thank your neighbor for their cooperation after the new or replacement fence gets installed. A thank you note can also act as a friendly reminder about:
- Sharing construction and maintenance costs
- Your other fence agreement conditions
Some states have fence laws that are especially specific about how to mitigate and resolve neighbor fence disputes. E.g., the California Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013 addresses views' obstruction. It also covers deliberate malicious acts that infringe on a neighbor's property.
The homeowner who builds the fence must give written notice to any contiguous neighbors at least 30 days before construction. You can use this good neighbor fence law letter. It works if you live in California or another state that requires a timed approach to fence building. It will start the conversation with potentially impacted members of your community.
Good Neighbor Fence State and Local Laws
There are many state, municipal, or local laws regulating or enforcing good neighbor fences. Every municipality has local ordinances, permit requirements, and zoning laws.
Depending on your city and the residential fence you build, you may be subject to rules. Your HOA will also most likely have regulations about fence styles, construction materials, and more.
You should choose a trusted local contractor knowledgeable about potential zoning issues and permit requirements in your area. If your fence confines animals classified as livestock in your state, you should also consult state agricultural fencing laws.
There are no universal fencing laws. However, a few variables are common across municipalities that may trigger the need for building permits. These factors include fence height, material, proximity to a street, and proximity to a protected environmental zone. You should start your project with a visit to the planning and permit department in your city or county.
Hope that helps!
At your service,