Fences: The Property You Share

If you own property, especially in the suburbs, there is probably a fence separating your property from your neighbors.  Most of the time, when that fence needs replacing, neighbors will work together to agree on (and split the cost of) the new fence.  That’s certainly the best way to go about it, if you can, but what happens if one of the neighbors is hard to work with?

California has a law about that.  It’s Civil Code section 841, and it governs boundary fences and other similar “monuments” between properties.  It starts from the principle that the neighbors are equally responsible for the maintenance.  Unless there is a written agreement otherwise, neighbors are equally responsible for the cost of maintenance, repair, and replacement.

If your neighbor doesn’t want to be neighborly, the statute also sets out a procedure for getting the fence repaired.  Step one is to send a written notice, giving the neighbor at least 30 days to respond.  The notice needs to include:

  • “Notification of the presumption of equal responsibility for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence”
  • A description of the problem with the fence
  • The proposed solution
  • An estimate of the cost
  • The proposed cost split
  • A proposed timeline

The code does provide that the neighbor can overcome the presumptions.  For example, if your neighbor proposes a repair that is unnecessary or is excessive in cost, you can defend yourself on those grounds.  However, absent those kinds of factors, the neighbor would be responsible for their share of the cost.

Hopefully, in most cases, sending the notice letter will get your neighbor to start talking, rather than being the first step toward a lawsuit.  After all, you will still need to live next to this person after the fence is built, so it’s always better to come to an agreement if it’s possible.

If you have questions about a fence or any other property issues, call our office.

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