The Unbreakable Rules of Sharing a Fence With Your Neighbor

If you own your home, everything on your property belongs to you. However, as you get closer and closer to your property lines, the space gets a little trickier. If there’s a fence separating your property from your neighbor’s, it’s a shared feature, even if only one of you technically owns it. The fence defines both private properties, and both of you benefit from it. That’s why sharing a fence requires etiquette. A fence forms the edge where two lives rub up against each other, and it can be a source of friction if you’re not careful. Since fence ownership and rights can be vague and complicated, it’s in everyone’s best interests to follow a few simple rules to ensure that minor fencing disputes don’t grow into major problems. Once you’re armed with the facts about your fence, property lines, and the local requirements, you’re ready to have all the fence conversations with your neighbor. Here are the general rules of fence etiquette that will avoid being on the A&E show Neighborhood Wars

  • Respect property lines. Knowing where your property ends and your neighbors’ begins is one thing, but respecting those lines is quite another. Don’t let your fence dribble over onto the lot next door just to avoid some rocky dirt or to shave a few dollars off the installation costs without discussing it with your neighbor and obtaining permission. 
  • Communicate before changing things. Many local governments require you to alert your neighbors about a fence installation or replacement, but you should do so even if there’s no such law in your area. 
  • Avoid unilateral decisions. Even if the fence is entirely on your property and thus belongs to you, always discuss changes with your neighbors before doing anything to a fence. They don’t own it, but they will appreciate having the opportunity to make you aware of any unforeseen impact your plans might have on them. 
  • Respect the neighborhood style. While your local government may have a lot to say about height and other requirements, you should also take care to keep your fence in line with the look and feel of the neighborhood. The courteous thing to do is to blend yours in with the rest. 
  • Install with the good side out. Many fences have “finished” and “unfinished” sides. The unfinished side has the bracing and supports, the finished “good” side looks nice and clean. The good side should always face your neighbor. Alternatively, you can find fences that are finished on both sides to avoid the issue altogether. 
  • Don’t insist on sharing the expense. If you think your neighbor should pay for some portion of a fence repair or replacement, you should broach the subject, but keep in mind that you probably can’t force them to pony up. If they refuse, your best bet is to just walk away.