In 1914 Robert Frost published Mending Wall, a remarkably complex poem about a seemingly simple subject matter – 2 neighbors and a fence. There is one line from this poem that has become a ubiquitous sound bite today, “good fences make good neighbors”. Thanks to California Civil Code Section 841 we now have specific guidelines regarding how to maintain those fences and, hopefully, good relations with our neighbors. Do you know your legal rights and responsibilities for maintaining, repairing or replacing boundary fences shared with neighbors?
If you are contemplating moving, repairing, replacing, extending, shortening, straightening, altering, adding to or tearing down a shared boundary fence, you will want to take a moment to review the “Good Neighbor Fence Law” California Civil Code Section 841 to learn about your rights and responsibilities.
According to the Good Neighbor Fence Law, adjoining landowners:
- shall share equally in the responsibility for maintaining the boundaries and monuments between them.
- are presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their properties
- shall be presumed to be equally responsible for the costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence.
Notification of adjoining landowners includes:
- notification of the presumption of equal responsibility for reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence
- a description of the nature of the problem facing the shared fence
- the proposed solution for addressing the problem
- the estimated construction or maintenance costs involved to address the problem
- the proposed cost sharing approach, and the proposed timeline for getting the problem addressed
There are numerous additional details and exceptions written into this law but the points outlined here are a very good place to start.
While there are many bone fide boundary line and/or encroachment issues per ownership and owners’ rights, fence disputes are often not about the fence. Triggers for arguments between neighbors often stem from poor communication, unilateral decisions and/or methodology by which decisions, repairs, alterations or replacements are managed.
If we want to live peacefully with our neighbors and allow good fences to make good neighbors, I believe it is a good idea to know our rights and responsibilities.
Photo used under creative commons courtesy of Jolyon Russ