Good Neighbor Fence Laws
There is no universal law that governs all residential fences. Instead, fences fall under various local ordinances, and HOAs usually have their own rules about fence installation and maintenance. Laws typically include shared costs, its location, its height and design, notifying your neighbor, and things to avoid.
Check with your county or city planning and permitting department. You can also search the web for California Laws for good neighbor fences since they are well-established to get an idea of what your local laws may require.
Who is Responsible for a Shared Fence?
Homeowners usually share the cost of construction and maintenance 50/50 for a good neighbor fence on a boundary line. That is because both property owners will share an equal benefit of having a fence. The shared costs include:
- Land surveys
- Installation labor
- Repairs and replacement of the fence
The good neighbor fence needs to be constructed on the property line so that one neighbor is not more responsible than the other for any maintenance or necessary replacement.
You will want to hire a land surveyor to find the exact boundary line. If a fence intentionally or accidentally gets constructed away from the property line, your neighbor could claim adverse possession and go to small claims court to try and claim part of your land. Therefore, the placement of boundary fences is crucial.
One thing to note; local fence laws typically relieve neighbors from financial liability if:
- The expense to one neighbor is disproportionate to the fence's benefit.
- The cost exceeds the difference in the value of the property before and after its installed.
- The costs impose a financial hardship.
- If the fence is unnecessary, excessive, or favor only one neighbor's personal architectural, aesthetic, or other likings.
Fence Distance from Property Lines and Easements
Your local laws often dictate how close a fence can be to the property line. Typically, you can build it directly on your property line. If you share your property line with any public entity, you might not be able to install it directly on the line. Instead, you might need to move it back a bit.
You can usually install your fence on an easement that travels through your property. But the dominant estate (e.g., utility company) might need to remove a section of your if they need access, like fixing the water main. They are permitted to do this.
Fence Height Laws
Usually, the maximum height is 6 feet anywhere on your property, except:
- Inside 15 feet of a street curb or street line
- In your front yard
- If traffic sight distances get diminished
In these cases, the fence height must be 3 1/2 to 4 feet maximum.
Except in rural and farming areas, barbed wire and electrified fences are typically not allowed. Unfortunately, chain links, concrete block walls, and vinyl fences are usually allowed, so hopefully, you have a good relationship with your neighbor, or if you are lucky, they are reasonable if you have your heart set on a wood fence.
Do I Need My Neighbor's Permission to Build a Fence?
Most of the time, you do not need your neighbor's permission to construct a fence that is entirely inside the boundaries of your property, unless you do need to abide by your local fence laws.
If you'd like to build a good neighbor privacy fence right on the property line, you'll want to draft a good neighbor fence written agreement between you and your neighbor. The contract should spell out that both neighbors are equally responsible for the fence's construction and care.
In California, state law mandates that adjoining landowners are presumed to share a structure, like a fence, that sits equally on their properties. Sharing the structure also means sharing in the costs. The homeowners could also choose to draft a written agreement that makes one neighbor entirely responsible for the fence.
It is vital to investigate state and local ordinances before building a privacy fence. A professional fence contractor should be versed in regulations in your area. Most Homeowners Associations, or HOAs, also include some rules about fencing in their covenants.
Notify Your Neighbor
The laws and fence etiquette suggest sending a letter to any neighbors adjoining your property. Laws typically require you to send it 30 days ere construction begins, certified, so you have proof of the date sent.
Mrs. Manners would suggest discussing it with your neighbors or, at a minimum, slide a note under their main door before designing your fence. That allows them to participate in design and cost decisions that will affect their finances and their yard's appearance.
Once you agree, mutually sign a written contract, so you both are protected in the unfortunate event of any misunderstandings in the future later.
Fence Behaviors to Avoid
Do not attempt to obviate the fence height law with tall shrubs. Often, local laws include vegetation as a fence type. Nonetheless, it is challenging to retain plant growth at exactly 6 feet or less; therefore, natural fences might allow a higher peak.
Building your fence just inside your property line does not help avoid local fence laws, including height. That move still subjects you to local fence laws. If anyone notifies local authorities, the authorities will most likely send you a written notice of non-conformance and require you to remove the fence within 30 - 60 days. Worse, your neighbor could eventually legally claim that portion of land between your fence and the property line as theirs.
Any of these actions or violating those listed above may be deemed you building a spite fence or a bad neighbor fence. Spite fence laws prohibit anyone intending to harass, perform malicious acts, or annoy a neighbor.
Does Home Insurance Cover Good Neighbor Fences?
Yes. Insurance companies consider good neighbor fences "other structures," and they qualify for coverage in a standard home insurance policy (HO3). Other structures typically provide a coverage amount of 10% of your dwelling coverage limit.
So, if you have a $200,000 policy limit, you have $20,000 of coverage for all your other structures per incident.
Of course, the incident that damages your fence must be a covered peril.
Hope that helps!
At your service,