Who Pays for Fence Replacement?

    Photo: Tom Harrington/Flickr.com

    Good fences make good neighbors, but what happens when a fence starts to go gently into that good night and is in need of repair or replacement? Neighborly disputes over responsibility when it comes to fence costs can quickly turn acrimonious, and sometimes end in court as people argue over a potentially expensive job. So, who pays for fence replacement, and how can you approach fencing issues with a neighbor to handle a situation smoothly and maintain good relations?

    Where is the fence?

    The first question to ask in this situation is where the fence is located. Many people aren't sure exactly where their property lines are and might be surprised to find that a fence isn't where they thought it was. Check your "plat" (official diagram showing your property boundaries) or call out a surveyor to determine whether the fence lies right along the property line, or on a specific person's property.

    On the property line

    If the fence is right on the property line, some states mandate that neighbors share replacement costs on any existing fence. In other states, neighbors need to work it out on their own, but there may be a restriction on the property deed indicating that shared fence responsibility goes with the property. This can be common in planned communities and other locales with neighborhood associations; you may want to check with members of the board, in that case, to find out more.

    In your yard

    If the fence is in your own yard, sorry, you're probably responsible for all repairs and replacement, legally. You could, however, ask your neighbor for assistance as a courtesy, although your neighbor can also choose to decline to share costs. On the other hand, a fence in your neighbor's yard is your neighbor's responsibility -- but if your neighbor doesn't want to pay for a new fence and you need one (for example, if you have animals), you'll need to install the new fence at your own expense (and it's a good idea to put that fence just over the property line on your place, since it's yours now).

    Laws vary

    Laws vary on this subject by state, and you may want to consult a real estate attorney to get clarification on who pays for fence replacement; for example, California mandates that people with an existing shared fence share cost of replacement, while other states do not.

    Talk with the neighbors

    Because this can be such a contentious issue, before you start getting into fence replacement mode, it's a good idea to bring it up with the neighbor(s) involved as smoothly as possible. You can mention that a fence is becoming dilapidated, and you may want to stress concerns about safety for animals, children, outbuildings, and gardens (if a fence falls, it has to fall somewhere, and that "somewhere" could be on something or someone important). Mention that you'd like to replace the fence and you're open to talking about options in terms of materials, height, and other specifications.

    Try to agree on a contractor

    Hopefully, your neighbor will agree that the fence needs to be replaced and offer to pay part of the cost. You'll want to get several price quotes and present the neighbor with them so you can make an informed choice together about which fencing contractor to hire, and once the work has been completed to your mutual satisfaction, the neighbor can share the cost.

    Keep things civil

    If your neighbor doesn't agree, you may be in for a more protracted battle. Try to keep things civil not just because you live next door, but because you can wind up with serious problems. For example, your neighbor might interfere with work crews installing a new fence, or could refuse to remove an old, partially-damaged fence, in which case the old fence might fall over and take your new one with it. Angry neighbors also won't generally take on a share of the cost of fence replacement, which could leave you with a pricey tab to pick up.

    If you go to small claims court

    When the law clearly indicates that you should share the cost with a neighbor, you can consider taking it to small claims court. Be aware that though you may win in a case asking who pays for fence replacement, it can be a lengthy process and you will need to pay some court filing fees. In addition, you'll probably get on your neighbor's bad side, which can cause problems in the future. Furthermore, even if the judge rules against your neighbor, you'll still need to collect, and that is not always easy.

    Contact reliable contractors for multiple bids on fence replacement or repair.

    Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

    Updated January 15, 2018.

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