Fences and Other Shared Costs With Neighbors: Who Is Responsible?

Outdoor play equipment in big backyard.
Courtney Hale / Getty Images/iStockphoto

When it comes to figuring out who is responsible for fences and other shared costs between neighbors, sometimes the legal responsibility depends on your state of residence and its local regulations.

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Here’s how to determine if a homeowner or neighbor should assume partial or full responsibility for situations where there is a shared outdoor-related expense.

Review Local Law

A common shared expense between neighbors is having a shared fence. Conflicts can quickly arise between neighbors over who is responsible for the fence’s maintenance, including paying for and making changes to painting, staining and other repairs.

Additional issues may also arise where neither neighbor is at fault. For example, a storm could cause a tree to fall in a neighbor’s yard and damage the shared fence. Who becomes responsible for repairs or replacement costs in this scenario?

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Before escalating into any unnecessary conflicts, David Tully, realtor at eXp Realty, recommends checking state and local ordinances to determine policies for responsibilities of shared outdoor-related expenses.

“If you are living in a community, neighborhood, municipality or in a big city, there is a great possibility of existing law talking about the distribution of workload and expenses,” said Tully. “Depending on the local ordinance, the guidance of shared fences and their expenses and duties would be mentioned differently, but you can find a common point.”

For neighborhoods where there is an HOA or other shared community space, there may be different rules regarding shared expenses. Consult your HOA’s governing documents or speak with a representative to find out more information.

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Discuss the Concern With Your Neighbor

The general rule of thumb in most jurisdictions is if a homeowner shares a fence with their neighbor, both are responsible for equally maintaining and repairing the fence. This is because the fence is on or close to the property line for both owners and both neighbors enjoy similar benefits from the fence.

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However, there may be moments when issues arise or you don’t know what would be best for both parties. What if one neighbor wants a fence which is substantially more expensive than the agreed upon repairs? And what if a neighbor offers to cover the full expense for the shared fence even though there is no agreement between the neighbors?

Tully recommends resolving any concerns by talking directly to the neighbor in question. This helps sort out shared cost issues and ensure you maintain a good relationship with your neighbors.

“By communicating, you would get to know their concern which will provide insight into the problem. It’s easier to find a solution when both parties are willing to work together,” said Tully.

Come to an Agreement About Other Shared Expenses

The fence is just one example of a shared expense between neighbors. Others to think about include gate considerations, fall cleanup, snow removal, land modification and vegetation planting and trimming. Even the wall supporting or maintaining a fence can become a shared expense if the wall must be erected, repaired or replaced.

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Mike Gregor, realtor at Cohen Agency SiM, LLC, said all shared costs must be divided equally among neighbors. The exception is if neighbors have prior negotiation on how they should pay for the building of the new outdoor-related item in question. 

Neighbors should discuss costs of shared expenses together and come to an agreement that works for and benefits both parties. A conversation with the neighbor is a good way to start, Gregor said, as long as both sides are satisfied with the arrangement.

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About the Author

Heather Taylor is a senior finance writer for GOBankingRates. She is also the head writer and brand mascot enthusiast for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots. She has been published on HelloGiggles, Business Insider, The Story Exchange, Brit + Co, Thrive Global, and more media outlets. 

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