white fence with door gate to front yard

Fencing And Your Property Line: A Neighbor's Guide

Sidney Richardson5-Minute Read
June 23, 2021

Fencing in your yard can be a great way to achieve some lawn privacy, as well as establish where your property ends and your neighbor’s begins. As you may know, there tend to be a lot of rules and restrictions to fence building, no matter where you might live – not to mention neighbor concerns. So, what’s generally allowed and what isn’t?

Here are a few things you may need to know before putting up a fence yourself.

What Is Fence Law?

In many places, there are rules and restrictions that dictate whether you can put up a fence around your yard — and what it should look like if you are allowed to do so. Fence law is typically a localized regulation, meaning it will probably vary significantly based on zoning.

Your local government, usually at the city or county level, can tell you the details of your area’s rules surrounding fences. Your local government or even homeowners association (HOA) may have regulations you must follow regarding who owns a fence between two properties, what a fence must look like, how close it can be to property lines, fence height limitations, etc. You might also need permission from local authorities to put up a fence in the first place.

FAQs For Building A Fence On Or Near Your Property Line

If you intend to put up a new fence surrounding your yard, you’ll likely want to do so in accordance with local regulations to avoid any legal disputes or fines. But what kinds of rules are out there, and what problems might you run into? Here are a few frequently asked questions. 

Do I Need A Fence Building Permit?

Not every area requires a fence building permit, but some do. To find out whether you’ll need one, contact your local government’s planning or zoning department or speak to a building inspector. Sometimes you might be required to obtain a permit to build a fence for the first time, but not subsequent times.

If you build a fence without a permit when one is required, you could receive an order to stop building or even to take down what you’ve already put up. If you fail to comply, you may face legal recourse from your local government, HOA, or even your neighbors. You could end up being fined or even sued.

To apply for a fence building permit, contact your local city hall and inquire about it. It’s a good idea to have a property survey done before putting up any fences to see where the actual boundaries of your property lie. You may also have to gain permission from your neighbors before building, depending on where you live and the size and location of your proposed fence. 

How Close To The Property Line Can I Build?

Fences are typically built between 2 and 8 inches from the line between properties. Some areas will allow the building of fences directly on the property line, but in this case, you’ll have to cooperate with your neighbor and potentially share the cost of the fence. To find out exactly how close to the property line you can build a fence, contact city hall or a local building inspector.

Remember that even if you build a fence a few inches (or even feet) away from the property line, you are still responsible for maintaining your property outside the fence all the way up to the line. Additionally, before building any fence, regardless of how close it is to the property line, you should have a conversation with your neighbors to make sure everyone is aware and hopefully in favor of what is going on. 

Can My Neighbor Build A Fence On The Property Line?

Some areas have different rules about how far from the property line a fence needs to be. In many urban areas, it’s perfectly fine to build fences right up to the property line between lawns, while in subdivisions and more rural areas, fences may need to be a certain distance from the property line.

If your neighbor has built a fence on the property line and that is not permitted where you live, you should inform them of the local fence laws, as they may not be aware of them. If they refuse to move or take down a fence that is illegal and bothering you, you can contact city hall and they will likely face a fine or legal action.

If fences on the property line are allowed and your neighbor has put one up without your knowledge, you should contact them to discuss the fence. Fences on boundary lines are typically a shared responsibility between neighbors, and you may be equally responsible for the upkeep of the structure. 

Can I Build A Fence Next To My Neighbor’s Fence?

What happens when you want to put up a fence, but your yard is already surrounded by the fences of your neighbors? Typically, if there are fences all around you, it’s perfectly fine to put up your own fence as well, though you should always double check with your local authority.

To protect yourself in the case of future troubles regarding your fence being too near to neighbors or technically on their property, you should either draw up a legal contract with them when putting up your fence or simply place all four corners of your fence further inside your property to assure it’s on your land.

This is another case where you may want to have a land survey done to find out exactly where your yard’s boundaries lie. If you can assure your fence is fully within your property on all sides, you should never have any fence dispute issues in the future, even if a neighbor takes down their fence. 

Who Pays For A Fence On The Property Line?

When a fence is built on a property line, it usually the responsibility of the homeowners on both sides, unless they negotiate otherwise. That said, when fence repairs are needed, both property owners should be responsible for paying, and if one refuses, the other can take legal action if needed – depending on the local fence laws, of course. Check with your local government for clarification on your neighborhood’s specific rules surrounding property line fences.

Can I Remove My Neighbor’s Fence From My Property?

If your neighbor has built a fence that turns out to be located on your property, they are technically trespassing. To avoid adverse possession complications, you should first approach your neighbor about the fence. If they refuse to move or take it down after you’ve had a property survey done or some other official means to prove the boundaries of your yard, you can take action to remove the fence. Note that any action to remove a fence should involve your local government’s planning or zoning office – do not attempt to remove the fence yourself.

If your neighbor put the fence up after receiving a permit to do so, you can sometimes contest the permit and receive an order through your local government for your neighbor to take the fence down. If there was no permit involved – or sometimes, even if there was – you may have to hire an attorney and take the issue to court in order to resolve it.

The Bottom Line: Fence Law Keeps The Property Line Peace

Building a fence is a great way to establish the borders of your property, create lawn privacy and enclose a space for pets to safely roam. Putting up fences can become complicated, however, with varying laws from town to town and potential fence disputes with neighbors.

Before you attempt to put any fence up, be sure to contact your local government, do your research on your community’s fence rules and restrictions, and most importantly, have a property survey done to confirm the boundaries of your land.

Sidney Richardson

Sidney Richardson is a professional writer for Rocket Companies in Detroit, Michigan who specializes in real estate, homeownership and personal finance content. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in advertising from Oakland University.