When Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors

It’s a frustration many homeowners have experienced: Is that fence on my property? If I think it’s a hideous eyesore or in bad repair do have a right to tear it down or make my neighbor do something about it? If I want to put up a fence on my property do I have to get my neighbors approval? Do they have to help me with the costs?

Some of these questions have easy answers under Florida law, some not so much.

If you decide to build a fence around your property to separate it from your neighbors, your neighbors are not required to share the expense of installation or upkeep. If the fence is on your property (and complies with other local and/or HOA regulations) you do not have to get their approval.

Tallahassee does not have specific codes regarding the construction of fences other that fences may not be constructed in such a manner that endangers the public health, safety or welfare. (No barbed wire, tripping hazards, or other makeshift shantytown nonsense in residential areas, please.)

Neighbors can agree to go in on a boundary fence together. But, if they do, it is best to enact a boundary fence contract before any work is performed. And keep in mind that if your neighbors move away and sell their property, the new homeowners will not be bound by that fence contract.

If there is no dispute or mistake about the boundary line between properties and your neighbor puts up a fence on your property, you should immediately notify them of the encroachment in writing. The neighbor is then on notice and is legally required to remove the offending fence. If they refuse, you will need to contact an attorney to pursue ejecting the neighbor from your property.

Things get a little trickier when the true boundary line between properties is unknown or in dispute. In those cases, de facto boundaries can be established either “by agreement” (if neither adjoining landowner knows the true boundary line and agree to the placement of a boundary fence and the fence stays on the property long enough to show a settled recognition of agreement to the boundary line, even if a later survey shows that that boundary was not accurate, the agreed on boundary line designated by the fence will stand) or “by acquiescence” (if neither adjoining landowner knows the true boundary line and one landowner put up a boundary fence that goes undisputed by the neighbor for over seven years, even if a later survey by a subsequent landowner shows that the fence encroaches on their property.)

If you have a question about a fence or boundary issue with a neighbor, the University of Florida has published a fairly comprehensive guide to these issues. And if you can’t resolve the issue amicably, a lawyer can help.