Of all the questions I routinely get, fence questions are at the head of the list. Generally, clients want to know, “Who owns the fence?” Since fences seldom last more than a few decades, or a lot less if wood, it is an issue that is going to surface on a regular basis.
My answer is not a legal one . . . it is a practical one . . . “It depends.” A number of questions come to mind when asked about the need for a new or repaired fence: Who paid for the last one? (Which side of a cedar fence has the “pretty side”? That is your first clue.)
Did the builder or developer put it up? (Probably shared.) Is it on the property line, or entirely inside the property line of one of the two tracts? Does it need repairs because a neighbor’s bull broke through or because of a flood? Regardless of the answer to any of these, I ordinarily suggest the same approach. Unless the neighbors have already had major conflicts, I urge clients to think of the fence as a joint project and offer to meet the other property owner “half way.”
With elderly neighbors, I have asked them to pay for materials and I have provided the labor (mine). With more affluent neighbors, I usually ask them to simply split the cost of a new fence and we hire a fence company. Just this week, I asked a ranch neighbor with construction employees if he wanted to provide the labor to repair our shared fence while I furnished the materials. I have yet to hear back from him and he has his land for sale, so I may have to deal with the next owner or go it alone. Sometimes fence replacement can take time . . . especially on farms and ranches where bulldozers are needed and the cost is tremendous.
In most newer residential subdivisions the fences are mostly on the property lines, but that does not always keep a neighbor from adding their own fence on their side of the line. I usually see this as a result of a newly added swimming pool and a desire for the privacy of an eight foot fence. In Austin, I understand that such a fence is a permit issue and that the neighbors have to agree to it; but I have yet to see that happen.
In short, I suggest to clients that they consider the fence as a shared item and to work with the neighbors towards a satisfactory result. Unfortunately, that often does not seem to work. If diplomacy fails and one party truly needs a better fence to contain kids or pets, then the only answer is probably to go it alone. This step can be tricky as well. One has to ascertain if the other party is going to object to the removal of the old fence. If so, the new fence will have to be inside the property line adjacent to the old fence. Or one has to decide if it is worth the coming squabble if the old fence is to be replaced over the strong objections of the neighbors. In that event, one needs legal rather than the practical advice I am offering here. Recently I was involved in an episode where an attorney had to step in to prevent some misguided fence games. It prevented lots of problems. Know when to consult an attorney.
Jeff Stewart, CCIM
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Jeff Stewart, Broker Associate / Stanberry REALTORS.