Good Laws Can Make for Good Fences

broke fenceI’ve heard of at least three fence disputes among friends and neighbors within the last several weeks — enough to have me rushing to the Nolo website to see what we’ve got on the matter. A lot, as it turns out (see “Neighbor Disputes“).

The various stories have been good reminders that the law covers more of our everyday lives than we sometimes realize — but also that you’ve sometimes got to do the tough work of talking matters through with a neighbor when the law seems inadequate to deal real life.

At the “That’s easy, the law has the answers” end of the spectrum, I know of a neighbor who watched a ten-foot-high fence being built on the property next to hers, right up against the sidewalk. She rightly suspected that city ordinances prohibited anything of such a height without a permit. Her first conversation with the owners (who were new to this country) produced a “Who cares?” response. But soon after she placed a call to the city,  she watched the neighbors’ workers saw the fence down by about seven feet.

Also in my neighborhood, a homeowner who shared a fence with a neighbor decided she didn’t like the fence aesthetically — even though it was in perfectly good shape — and asked the neighbor to pitch in on a new one. That neighbor was unhappy about seeing the old fence go, and refused to foot part of the bill. Indeed, there’s no law that requires neighbors to pay for a replacement fence when there’s nothing wrong with the first one. (If the fence were falling apart, it might be another matter, as described in Nolo’s FAQ, “The fence on the line between my land and my neighbor’s is in bad shape. Can I fix it or tear it down?“) But the unwilling neighbor did end up offering to help with the work, simply for the sake of maintaining neighbor relations.

In another situation, a new homeowner replaced an old, worn fence that surrounded her property — without consulting the neighbor on one side, believing that, since that neighbor had none of the same style of fencing on the remainder of his property, and the “pretty” side of the fence faced her way, it must be her fence, to do with as she would. Angry neighbor reaction ensued! In this case, the law seemed to favor the angry neighbor, since “Boundary fences are owned by both owners when both use the fence.” In any case, a batch of homemade cookies helped restore neighborly relations.

Maybe I should start offering recipes on this blog, along with law links!