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Property Line Issues/Trespassing

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Although fences may make for good neighbors, you still may have to deal with property line issues, trespassing and other problems that may affect your little corner of paradise. Read the following FAQ section for more information on these and related problems.

My neighbor and I want to build a fence to separate our property, but we do not want to spend the money to hire a surveyor. What can we do to make our agreement legal?

You and your neighbor can agree on a property line and make it legal by signing deeds that detail the boundaries you have established. Once you both have signed the deeds, you will need to file them at your county's land records office.

Caution: If you have a mortgage on your property, you may have to get permission from the mortgage company to readjust the property lines. In this case, ask a lawyer for help in creating the deeds.

My new neighbor suddenly started building a shed on my property. What can I do?

Do the following:

  • Talk to your neighbor about the issue. He may be acting based on incorrect information in his deed.
  • If the neighbor continues to build on your property, alert him to the fact that you will sue if construction does not cease immediately. Send a letter (or have your lawyer write and send one) stating that you will sue, if necessary, to stop this incursion on your property.
  • If the neighbor refuses to stop building, have your lawyer obtain a judge's order to stop construction. This will allow you time to sue your neighbor for trespass.

I am planning to build a fence in my front yard. How high can it be?

Typically, you can build fence in your front yard to a height of four feet in a residential area. In a residential backyard, you can typically build a fence to a height of six feet. Be sure to check your local ordinances for the maximum approved heights in your area.

TIP: If any part of your fence shares a property line, be sure to talk to your neighbor before you begin construction.

Are trees and bushes planted in a line considered fences?

Often, but not always. Be sure to check your local ordinance for information on "natural fence" height limitations. Typically, the height restrictions range from five to eight feet.

My neighbor's yard is full of trash and he often has loud parties. Can I build a fence that exceeds height limitations to screen my property?

In many instances, you can ask your city or town to make an exception (known as a variance) to allow you to build a fence higher than is permitted.

My neighbor has built a towering fence that easily exceeds the height limits for my neighborhood. What can I do?

Unless the neighbor is still in the process of building the fence, she will be probably be unwilling to modify the fence. Try alerting her to the local ordinance pertaining to fence size. If your neighbor is unwilling to make changes, you can contact your town's zoning board or planning department, which will order your neighbor to comply with the ordinance or face a fine or legal action.

Do I have any recourse if my neighbor paints his fence with outrageous colors?

With the acknowledgment that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is little you can do to change the color of the fence. The exception would be if you live in a townhouse or planned community that has specific rules in place relating to fence color, fence material or other issues. Again, you will need to check your development rules or local ordinances for more information.

My neighbor fancies himself a carpenter and built his own fence to save money. The fence sways dangerously in the wind, and I am worried that it is going to fall on my kids as they play in our yard. What can I do?

This is an actionable issue that falls under a blighted property ordinance or other similar laws. Your neighbor may be required to either fix the fence or tear it down if it is a safety hazard. First, talk to your neighbor about the issue. If he is unwilling to fix the problem, you should contact your town's building or zoning department. If that does not work, you may have to sue your neighbor to solve the problem.

My neighbor and I share an old, rotting fence. Can I replace it without her permission?

No, the law states that both owners share the fence and each must ask permission of the other before it can be removed or repaired. Both neighbors are responsible for the maintenance of a fence, and some states penalize homeowners who are unwilling to share the costs of fence repair.