How to Avoid Disputes When Installing a Fence
Unless you live in a rural area and have multiple acres on your property, any fence you build is going to affect your neighbors. There’s no way around that in urban and suburban residential areas. Your project will probably have an impact on two or three neighboring properties. While the codes, ordinances and regulations in each city or other jurisdiction are designed to ensure that only well-designed, safe fences are installed, that’s often not enough to prevent disputes with one or more neighbors. If you live in a development that is governed by an HOA, it’s likely that very strict standards are in place for such installations. Even then, though, you may face objections from a neighbor.
Fences are the sources of more disputes between property owners than almost any other aspect of home ownership. Each year, many lawsuits are filed and arguments are created between neighbors. Sometimes those disputes can last for years and can even lead to real altercations. The old saying that “good fences make good neighbors” is absolutely true. It could also be written as, “good neighbors build good fences.” Below, you’ll find a guide to working with your neighbors to prevent any disputes and ensure good relationships with the people who own property near yours, in most cases.
Have a Discussion with Your Neighbors First
As soon as you decide you’d like to add a new fence or replace an older one, talk with the neighbors on all sides of your property. Explain what you plan to do, and discuss the materials you want to use, the height of the fence and where it will be on your property. Ask them for their thoughts and suggestions. Often, this step takes care of the problem, all by itself. In other cases, your neighbors may have suggestions for you. Consider those carefully, and compromise, if you can, to ease their minds. You have the right to build a fence, but you also want your neighbors to be happy with your plans.
You May Be Able to Save Money by Working with Neighbors
Often, when you bring up a fence project with neighbors, you may discover that they’ve also been thinking about adding one, too. If that’s the case, you may be able to work out an arrangement for you to share costs for the part that separates your properties. It’s a very common arrangement, since what you build will also benefit your neighbor. In many cases, you can work out financial participation by all adjoining property owners that results in substantial savings in total cost for you. You may have to make some compromises in design or materials, but such arrangements always ensure that no disputes will develop once the project is completed.
Which Side of Your Fence Will Be the “Good Side?”
One of the easiest ways to get approval from your neighbors is to assure them that the side of the fence that shows on their side will be the better-looking side. In fact, since that’s required by most fence building ordinances, you won’t really have a choice. It’s good selling point though, during discussions. Many designs, though, have the same finished appearance on both sides, so you lose nothing if that’s your design choice. Also, let your neighbors know that your fence will be completely on your property and won’t encroach on theirs. That’s usually a legal requirement, in any case. Resist any suggestion that the fence be on the property line, though. Some future owner may be able to force you to move it. Keep it completely on your property to avoid problems.
Ask for Permission to Work on the Neighbor’s Property during Construction
Most fence designs require access to both sides of the fence during construction. This can be a cause for disputes among neighbors in some cases. Assure your neighbor that no damage will be done to their property or landscaping and that workmen will exercise caution to avoid such damage. Promise to repair any inadvertent damage that does occur. Your contractor will insist that you’ve obtained that permission, too. If you can’t get such permission, you may have to modify your design or fence location to allow all construction to be completed without trespassing on your neighbor’s property. That can complicate the construction process or cause you to lose use of some of your property. Work with your neighbor to keep things friendly and you’ll avoid many problems.
Locate and Mark Property Lines Accurately
If you’re unsure about the exact location of property lines or can’t find property line monuments, don’t be tempted to guess. Hire a surveyor to locate and mark your property boundaries accurately. It’s not very expensive, but can prevent endless problems and costs. Again, discuss this process with neighbors to make sure they understand that your fence will not encroach on their properties. It’s crucial that you observe property rights when building your project. If not, you could be forced to move or remove it, and that’s a very costly process.
Don’t Unduly Disturb Your Neighbors During Construction
Schedule all work and discuss timing with your contractor with your neighbors in mind. If neighbors have unusual sleep schedules or small children, discuss construction noise with them and try to come to an agreement. Usually, they’ll understand and accept the inevitable disruption, but the conversation will help assure them that you’re doing all you can not to disturb them. Work with your installation company on this issue and make sure that employees will work as quietly as possible and avoid the use of foul language while on the job. Reputable fence companies have policies in place to ensure that neighbors are disturbed as little as possible.
Remember That You Have the Right to Build a Fence on Your Property
Sometimes, despite all efforts to reach agreements with neighbors are impossible. In some cases, a difficult neighbor may even be the reason for building a fence in the first place. If you have a neighbor who continues to object to your project, you can still go ahead with your plans. However, in such situations, you will have to be doubly careful to follow local building codes and ordinances to the letter and make certain that work on your project doesn’t infringe on your neighbor’s property rights. If you find yourself in that situation, be sure to let your contractor know about it in advance, so installation crews understand the need for extra care. Such conditions make your project more difficult to complete, though, so it’s worth doing everything you can to convince neighbors to approve of your plans.