Fencing is often a hot topic for my clients. Fences don't just designate who own which property, it also can help create privacy, keep our pets in while keeping other animals (deer) out and protect our children. Fences have become so common in our suburban environment that numerous companies just build fences day in and day out. For me, fencing is almost always part of the overall design plan. So when it comes to fencing, who should pay? What percentage should each neighbor pay towards a fence? Now your first inclination may be that each neighbor should pay 50% of the cost; however, that is not always the case. So how should this issue be addressed between neighbors?
The short answer is that every situation is different. There are times when my clients pay half, pay all or pay a portion of the fencing and I will detail out the different scenarios below so that you can determine how your particular situation fits in.
Each neighbor should pay 50% the cost of the fence when each party equally benefits. This means that the fence looks equally as good from both sides. Posts, framing and quality of wood are alternated throughout the fence line. For example, deer fencing falls under this category in that both parties would have the same visual aesthetic. Wood fences that show the posts on both sides of the fences and the vertical slats are of equal quality also fall under this category. In an ideal world, all fencing would be 50:50 however there are situations where this should not be the case.
60%:40% or 70%:30%
In some cases one neighbor benefits more than the other neighbor. This may be due to the fencing style, quality or privacy it will provide. Therefore in these cases, one neighbor should pay more.
For example, one neighbor may get privacy due to the new fence whereas the other does not gain additional privacy. This is often the case with houses that are not level with each other (one higher than the other). A situation like this happened a few years ago when two neighbors both called me out unbeknownst to each other. Neighbor A (new homeowner) had recently bought their house. As they went through escrow, concern over the fire safety of all the brush on the hill had been brought to their attention by an inspector. So as soon as they moved in, they cleared out their back hill that the previous owner had never touched or maintained in the decades they had lived in the home. So when I met with Neighbor A, they just wanted to put a deer fence up since they would not gain any benefit from any other type of fencing. However, the next door neighbor (Neighbor B) had been enjoying total privacy from a third house (Neighbor C) due to the overgrown shrubs on Neighbor A's back hill. When I met with Neighbor B, they were so upset they had lost privacy and were frustrated that Neighbor A had not told them they would be removing the shrubs. This was an unfounded frustration since Neighbor A owned their property and could do what they wanted to it and in fact they had actually improved the fire safety of Neighbor B's house without charging Neighbor B anything for it. Neighbor B insisted on having a full 6' tall solid fence put in. In this case, Neighbor B should definitely pay the difference of what a solid fence would cost as opposed to a deer fence. In no way does Neighbor A benefit from a solid fence so Neighbor B should and did pay for the difference in cost of the two types of fences.
Another example of when one neighbor should pay more is when one neighbor wants a modern horizontal fence. One side of a modern horizontal fence is significantly better looking than the other. On the back side of a horizontal fence, posts break up the continuity of the fence line. In addition, usually the better side of the wood is used on the front of the modern fence as opposed to the back. Therefore in this case, the neighbor that gets the uninterrupted horizontal planks should pay more than the neighbor that doesn't.
So there are times when I have my clients pay for the whole fence. There are several possible reasons for this.
Communication Challenges: Sometimes we just add a new fence right next to another one. This usually happens when communication with a neighbor is not working or they won't reply back after significant effort. We don't want to disrupt their current fence so instead we just add a fence of my clients choosing right next to the other fence. That way the neighbor is not affected in anyway from the new fence.
Financial Concerns (Elderly Neighbors): Another reason my client may pay for the whole fence is that the neighbor is not financially able to pay. This has happened quite a few times when the neighbor is elderly and has lived in their home for so long that they are not in a financial place to afford a new fence. In several cases, that neighbor was not even living in their home anymore. We will communicate with the family members as best we can and then ensure that the style of the fence looks good on both sides or if more modern the neighbor is aware of the new style of fence.
Hedges: The last reason that my client would pay 100% of the fee of the fence is if the neighbor has a complete hedge on their side and having a new fence regardless of the state of the current fence would not benefit them (ex. no pets/kids). In this case, we ensure the neighbor is aware of the new fence being installed but my client will chose the style of their liking and pay for the whole thing.
Yes dealing with neighbors and fencing can be a challenge sometimes but in the end fencing can make a huge positive impact on your front/backyard project. They can set the design tone of a yard, protect your pets and allow your kids to play in a safe space. And although dealing with neighbors can be hard, keeping a good relationship with them is an important investment much more valuable than spending a little bit more on the fence line.