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Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

October 9th, 2006 · 2 Comments · Neighbors and Boundary Law

Who has to pay?

Most of us share at least one fence with a neighbor.  In my case, I have a fence shared with 3 different neighbors.  Over time, the fences had weathered El Nino, and La Nina and pretty much gave way.  We shared the replacement cost with each neighbor equally.  Sounds like common sense, right?  Well actually, it’s required by statute.

California Civil Code Section 841 states, "Coterminous owners are mutually bound equally to maintain…boundaries and monuments between them…[and] fences between them…"

That means that if your fence blows down in the next rain storm and your neighbor won’t share the cost of replacement, you can remind them of their legal obligations.  However, there is one exception to the rule. 

Suppose the character of the neighborhood is such that your neighbor decides that he does not care whether the fence is ever replaced.  Then your neighbor is excused from paying for the fence.  This is a rare scenario, but in suburbs and metropolitan areas, people generally don’t worry too much about wandering sheep, horses and other grazing animals.  However, those of us with dogs and/or children would normally prefer to fence off our yard.

Spite Fences

Most cities have regulations about the height of fencing, normally 6 feet tall is the maximum.  The state law (California Civil Code Section 841.4) is that anything exceeding 10 feet in height is a nuisance.

However, that code section actually requires intent, that the fence was erected either maliciously or maintained for the purpose annoying the neighbor.

Case law has gone on to find that even trees planted in such a manner can be considered a spite fence. 

The remedies for injured neighbor can be an injunction, reduction of the height or removal of the fence. 

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • MP

    Based on the Civil Code 841.4, can neighbor reject fence and pole to be placed on a survey property line? if there were no fence prior?

    To further clarify my point, I would like to know if the fence and poles can be “shared” equally on both properties. If neighbor rejects, does this Code require me to put the fence entirely on my property?

    Thanks,

    MP

  • Carol

    What if your neighbor (who has never built a fence decides to build the fence himself, and does not request your labor assistance (did it mostly while we were at work)/nor accepts any recommendations during the build, then afterwards tries to charge you labor (not discussed prior to bill)? Do we owe him labor?

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