The esteemed American poet, Robert Frost famously wrote “Good fences make good neighbours”. However, as many homeowners know, it’s also possible for fences (good or otherwise) to turn neighbours into bitter enemies!
Fence disputes have always been a hot button with homeowners, particularly in densely populated, urban neighbourhoods. When your parcel of property isn’t especially sprawling, claiming every little bit as your own becomes a high priority. Of course, that’s not to say that more generous suburban properties, or even expansive, rural homes don’t also generate their share of fence disputes.
Know Your Boundaries
Whether you want to build a fence, or are challenging a neighbour’s right to build a fence between your properties, your first step should be to get some clarification on boundary locations. To do this, you will need to consult your property survey. If you do not already have a survey, one can be performed by a licensed land surveyor in your province.
“A land survey plan is a specialized map of a parcel of land, created by thoroughly examining and measuring the property. It determines and delineates boundary locations, building locations, physical features and other items of spatial importance.” (Protect Your Boundaries)
Common Fence Disputes
Fortunately, most fence disputes between neighbours don’t escalate to the level of the infamous $100,000 fence. However, there a several fence-related quarrels that can severely impact neighbour relations.
A Neighbour Won’t Pay for Their Share of a Fence
There are two sides to every fence. So, when the time comes to erect a brand new fence, or replace one that has fallen into disrepair, the best-case scenario would see each neighbour assuming part of the cost.
Unfortunately, cheerful cooperation can be rare among neighbours. Budgetary constraints, neighbourhood traditions, and flat out stubbornness can all be the source behind one neighbour’s refusal to pay for a new fence.
The first step towards resolution should be to try and work it out among yourselves. If your neighbour cannot afford a new fence, but is not opposed to one being constructed, you may want to consider working out a payment option, or simply footing the bill yourself.
If you are able to come to some sort of mutual agreement, it’s a good idea to check your municipality’s website to see if there is an official document available to let you put your agreement in writing –such as this form created by the City of Toronto.
If you and your neighbour cannot reach an agreement regarding the erection of your new fence, you may need to refer to your municipality’s governing regulations. In Ontario, we have the Line Fences Act.
“The Line Fences Act is one of Ontario’s most historic pieces of legislation that provides a local method of arbitrating fencing disputes between neighbouring property owners.
The Act applies where one owner wants to construct, repair or maintain a fence on a property boundary line, but is unable to reach agreement with the other owner on the type of fence to be erected, the sharing of the costs of the fence, or both of these issues.” (Ministry of Municipal Affairs –Ontario)
Fence (Allegedly) Crosses a Property Lines
Disputes over property boundaries have been around for what seems like forever. Sometimes, it can be as simple as where to stop shoveling the sidewalk in front of your property, or as complicated as an offending fence the one neighbour wants to have moved.
Whether you or your neighbour are the party who believes that the fence should be moved, due to boundary encroachment, always start by getting official confirmation of the boundary line. This means requesting to see your neighbour’s survey plan, or acquiring your own.
If you and your neighbour are still in disagreement after viewing your surveys, you may then need to hire a lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand you rights and advise on the best course of action.
What you do not want to do in either situation is take matters in to your own hands. Do not damage or remove a fence, or take any other drastic actions, under any circumstances. Destruction of a fence can not only result in incremental incurred expenses for the offending party, but it may also result in criminal charges.