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Can Your Neighbor Build a Fence On the Property Line?

It’s possible that your neighbor has encroached on your land while building a fence. There are certain steps you should take to ensure that you don’t lose the land to an adverse property claim.
It’s possible that your neighbor has encroached on your land while building a fence. There are certain steps you should take to ensure that you don’t lose the land to an adverse property claim.

Fences are more than just a barrier between your house and the outside world. They mark the boundaries of your property and dictate important things like its appraised value.

It’s important that you are aware of where the fences around your house lie with respect to the boundaries of your property. This is especially important since it’s possible for neighbors to encroach on adjoining land while building a fence.

Building a Fence on the Property Line

Can your neighbor build a fence on the property line? That depends on where you live. Certain jurisdictions require that homeowners build their fences a few inches within the property.

There are, however, many jurisdictions that allow you to build a fence on the property line. For example, California law presumes joint ownership of a fence that’s built on a property line since both owners derive benefits from it. However, there are certain rules that come into play if a fence is built right at the boundary between two properties.

In such cases, the fence belongs to both parties, unless there is legal documentation stating otherwise. That means that they split the costs of maintaining the fence and neither can get rid of it unilaterally.

Adverse Possession Claims

If your neighbor builds a fence on the property line, then most states make it clear that the responsibilities are split between both homeowners. Problems arise when you believe that a neighbor has built a fence on your land, thus reducing the size of the property available to you.

Such a situation can lead to an adverse possession claim, which means that your neighbor can legally acquire the part of your property that they have fenced in. There are a number of different criteria a claim needs to meet in order for ownership of that piece of land to be handed over to the party that has been using it despite not owning it.

One of the most important qualifying factors is the amount of time for which the contested land has been used by your neighbor. This statutory period varies from state to state. For example, Alabama requires 10 years of continuous possession; Colorado, on the other hand, requires 18 years. If your neighbor has occupied a part of your land for the state-mandated period, they can go to court to prove that they have an adverse possession claim.

If you think that your neighbor is trespassing your property with a fence they have constructed, you could seek legal recourse. However, the best thing to do initially is to approach your neighbor directly. They may have encroached on your land unintentionally and may be willing to move the fence.

You can prevent your neighbor from eventually being able to claim your land even if they aren’t able to move the fence. All you need to do is to have them sign a rental agreement that gives them permission to use the land for a nominal yearly fee. This prevents your neighbor from showing that their occupation of the land is hostile, which is one of the prerequisites for an adverse possession claim.

Guidelines When Constructing a Fence

There are a few things you can do to ensure that fences are built in a way that prevents property-related conflicts.

The most important thing to do if you’re building a fence is that it doesn’t encroach onto your neighbor’s property. You can find out where the boundaries of your land are by getting a property survey done. This costs about $450 and it’s well worth the money you will spend on it.

The fencing company that you hire to erect the fence is required by law to adhere to the zoning regulations in your area. So once you know where the boundaries of your property lie, you can rely on the fencing company to build the fence based on the local laws. You can review what these restrictions are beforehand with the company if required.

What your fencing company is not required to do is follow the guidelines laid down by your homeowners’ association (HOA). Your HOA can lay down rules about fence height, setback distance, and so on to make sure that you convey these rules to your fencing company before work gets started.

Since zoning regulations can vary significantly from state to state, homeowners should hire a real estate agent when buying or selling a home with a questionable fence.

Agents will be able to help buyers conduct land surveys and make sure they aren’t purchasing land that is contested. Sellers, on the other hand, should consult with a real estate agent to check if they are adhering to local regulations while making pre-sale repairs or improvements to the fence around their property.

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Andrew Schmeerbauch

Andrew Schmeerbauch is the Director of Marketing at Clever Real Estate, the free online service that connects you top agents to save on commission. His focus is educating home buyers and sellers on navigating the complex world of real estate with confidence and ease. Andrew has worked on projects for the United Nations and USC and has a particular passion for investing and finance. Andrew's writing has been featured in Mashvisor, L&T, Ideal REI, and Rentometer.

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