What is the etiquette on building fences? What’s the polite thing to do? How much input should you get and give? What happens when there’s a huge tree that affects both properties on the fence line? What happens when the existing fence doesn’t really represent the property line?
It’s said that good fences make good neighbors. I’ll let you decide for yourself, but I must admit that there is definitely fence etiquette to be discussed. The first thing to understand is that fences aren’t there just to create privacy and keep people out. They can serve to keep pets in and add a border to the property. Sometimes they are purely an aesthetic choice. So if your neighbor decides to put up a fence where one hadn’t previously been, don’t just assume that it’s to keep you out or that it’s an unfriendly gesture.
Typically, if you want to install a fence, you’ll need to start by figuring out your property line and finding out about your town’s fence regulations. If you are the fence builder, be sure to meet with neighbors to inform them of your intention. If you are the neighbor, it’s OK to ask the fence builder to review plans with you. The idea is to keep the communication open and friendly throughout the process. Even with the fence, you’ll still be neighbors.
If an existing fence encroaches on your property, again, start with a friendly conversation with your neighbor (be ready to back it up with evidence) and see if you can come to a resolution. If not, you can bring it to your town offices and ask for advice. Hopefully, it won’t get to the stage where lawyers are involved — and a soured relationship as a consequence.
In Vermont, as in a number of other states, there is a town official called a “fence viewer,” whose job it is to examine a fence line between properties and determine which landowner is responsible for maintenance of which part of the fence. This official also can decide where a fence should go if it can’t follow the property line, as might be the case when a tree straddles the line.
Traditional fence etiquette says that the front side of the fence (for example the flat, flush side of the planks or slats of a typical wood fence) should face your neighbor or the street, and the back side should face in toward the fence owner’s property.
You can ask if your neighbor would like to share the cost of building a fence that you both approve of. When it’s a joint effort, have a written agreement regarding which of you is responsible for what maintenance, something that can be disclosed if you sell your property. If your neighbor cannot or does not wish to join with you to build a fence, try not to be disappointed, but know that it’s OK to move forward with your plans on your own.