It’s pretty much a given that homes have fences between them, especially in backyards. You probably haven’t ever thought much about your fence, until it comes time to repair it, replace it, or just add some privacy slats. Then the question may come up: whose fence is it anyway? You don’t want to alter the fence if it belongs to your neighbors, and you may feel that if it’s truly a shared fence, they should share the cost. Here is our best guide to knowing whose fence it is.
Check with the city. Fence laws vary from city to city. Your city should have guidelines on who owns a fence (it may be in your/your neighbor’s deed) and they are the best ones to talk to. At least they will know exactly where your property line is (it might be different than you expect!) and can tell you whose side the fence is on. Going through your city will make sure that everything is legal and you have a case if your neighbor complains about anything you do.
Again, checking with your city is the best thing to do and what we recommend. However, in the meantime, here are some tricks to help you make an educated guess:
1. If your fence has one, what side is the “pretty side” of the fence on? When someone installs a fence, the poles are usually on the side that they install it from. Thus, whoever doesn’t have the “pretty side” of the fence is usually the owner. This can depend on a lot of factors, so it’s a starting point, not a definite factor.
2. Check with the landlord. If either you or your neighbor is renting, check with the landlord. If you’re going to make changes to a fence, it should go through them anyway. They will likely have more information about the property.
3. Ask your neighbor. Especially if they have lived there longer than you, it’s a good idea to ask as they probably have knowledge about the fence. Or they may not know but may be willing to make a compromise with you anyway.
When in doubt, you can always add a fence to your side of the property line. If it turns out that your neighbor owns the fence and is refusing to do anything about it and you need it changed (say you have a dog and there are gaping holes), you can always add another fence on your side of the property. This way it is your fence for sure. This isn’t an ideal situation and it may anger your neighbors, so think carefully before you decide to do so.