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What Types of Things are Controlled by Fence Laws?

The following is a list of things generally controlled by fence laws: 

  • Whether an area is a fence out or fence in area: This refers mostly to the control of livestock animals getting out of fenced areas
  • Building restrictions: What constitutes a fence (minimum requirements)
  • Repair requirements: For example who will repair, or who will shoulder costs
  • Procedures for resolving fence disputes

What Are the Typical Height Restrictions on Most Constructed Fences?

In most residential areas constructed fences can be six feet in the backyard and four feet in the front yard. 

What Are the Typical Height Restrictions on Most Natural Fences?

Natural fences, when mentioned in local ordinances, are typically required to be from five to eight feet in height. Whether something is or isn't a natural fence depends on what the local ordinance states are natural fences. Most statutes define a natural fence as trees, shrubs, or the like that grow together thus forming a natural barrier. 

Should I Be Aware of Any Other Issues Concerning Fence Height?

It is not uncommon for many properties to have "variances" allowing fence heights to be higher. Check with local authorities if you are concerned whether your property or a neighbor's property has such a variance. To avoid problems later, consult with you neighbor regarding any proposed variances for your property.

How Can I Get My Neighbor to Take Down or Rebuild a Fence that Violates the Local Fence Law?

If no one complains about a fence, nothing will be done about it. If you have a problem with a fence, first contact your neighbor. Often they don't know a fence violates an ordinance. If that doesn't work, a simple call to the local planning or zoning authority will usually do the trick. The city attorney's office will ask the neighbor to change his fence to conform to regulations.  Failure to comply can lead to fines or even lawsuits. 

Is There Anything I Can Do about an Unsightly Fence Owned by a Neighbor?

There are no laws prohibiting "ugly fences". Some cities and towns do have local ordinances requiring fences to have a uniform look to them. If you live in a historical area there may be similar ordinances . 

What Are Blighted Property Ordinances and Spite Fences?

City governments can force land owners to remove or repair poorly constructed or dangerous fences. Under "blighted property ordinances" local government can force removal or repair of fences they deem to be dangerous to the local community. In addition "spite fence statutes" allow local governments to force the removal of fences that are high, ugly, and without reasonable use.

How Should My Neighbor and I Approach Repair or Replacement of a Common Property Line Fence?

Fences on boundary lines belong to both owners when both are using the fence. Both owners are responsible for keeping the fence in good repair, and neither may remove it without the other's permission. Some states provide statutory penalties for failure to contribute to fence repair, maintenance, or replacement.

Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding My Fencing Issues?

If speaking to your neighbor doesn't work, a call to the local planning or zoning commission should. If you are having no luck with either, contacting an attorney may be your only option. Some state statutes allow you to resolve fence issues and sue various parties for contributions to that resolution. Speaking to a property lawyer to determine what your options are against your neighbor or the local government will be your best option in that case

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-06-2015 10:08 AM PST

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