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Fence installation: Why you should be neighborly

Fences serve plenty of purposes. Apart from creating privacy and keeping intruders away from your property, fences also help keep children and pets from wandering away from the safety of a home. They are also great boundary markers and sometimes, people use them for their aesthetic appeal. 
Your first step before installing a fence is to make sure that you have everything you need. This involves making sure that you know where your property lines lie and finding out whether there are fence laws in your area. You might also want to speak to your immediate neighbors and inform them of your plan to put up a fence. 
Fences and property lines disagreements occur often; however, they can be solved amicably out of court. In the event that your neighbor has installed a fence that has encroached on your land, approach them in a friendly and polite manner, and voice your concerns. If this does not work, involving the relevant authorities to make sure that the fence is removed from your property. 
Many States, including California, have a fence viewer; an official who makes sure that fencing regulations such as who is responsible for maintaining the fence and whether the fence follows property lines. In the event of a hindrance on the property line, say a tree straddling the property line, the fence viewer will determine on whose side the fence will go.
There is also fence etiquette; a tradition that aims a preventing conflict between neighbors when erecting fences. For example, during fencing, fence etiquette dictates that the flat side without the supporting beams should go towards the neighbor’s side as long as they are not taking part in constructing the fence. This also applies to fences that are near a road.
It is also possible to jointly erect a fence with your neighbor. However, a written agreement is usually required in order to determine who needs to maintain what, when and how.


California's Fence Law

There is a “good neighbor” fence law in California which pertains any common fence dividing two properties. The law was recently updated. Initially, you and your neighbor were equally responsible for the installation and maintenance of a fence.  
The updated law made things clearer regarding common fences and who was responsible for the fence. Currently, there is a more formal process of putting up common fences. Failure to follow these guidelines will result in losing out on half of the cost that you would have received from your neighbor during fencing.
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According to the new law

Both neighbors are presumed to benefit from the common fence. Therefore, the cost of erecting one should be covered by the two neighbors. However, the neighbor who wishes to set up a fence should first send a formal notice to their neighbors 30 days before commencing on any work. 
The law also laid out instances when the fence benefited both parties. This will determine who pays for the fence and whether or not the cost of putting up a common fence should be split into two. The notice you are supposed to send to your neighbor should have the following information. 
Inform your neighbor about the “good neighbor” fence law that instructs both of you to share costs since you will get equal benefits. Let them know that unless you agree in writing, the law will presume that you are equally responsible for the cost of construction, maintenance, and necessary replacement of the fence. 

Make sure you include:
  • The description of the fence
  • The estimated costs for fixing the problem;
  • Your proposal for how to split the costs
  • Your proposal for the timeline for getting the problem fixed.
The law also acknowledges that there are instances when the fence only benefits one party. In the event something like that happens, the person responsible for the fence is the one putting it up. 
Here are the reasons why these measures are taken.
  1. If the fence offers no real value to one neighbor and the cost of the fence is “substantially disproportionate to the benefit conferred” by the fence. 
  2. If the cost of installing the fence will more than the difference in the value of the property
  3. The neighbor with such a claim would have to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they are going through financial hardships and that they are not financially able to cater to half the cost of the fence. 
  4. If the costs of the project are “unnecessary or excessive.”
  5. If the cost of the project is due the landowner’s desire to improve the look of his/her property.
While these are not set laws they offer some guidelines when installing a fence. The court is responsible for directing the split of costs between two neighbors. They could, at their own discretion, decide that the cost of the whole fence, its maintenance, and repairs be handled by a single party. 
Setting up a fence is not an entirely hard process, and it should not always involve the law. It is possible for two neighbors to amicably set up a fence and benefit from it. However, they need to make sure that every agreement is made in writing. 
This way, they are well aware of each other’s responsibilities. Written agreements also make it easier for each neighbor to live harmoniously. In the event such agreements cannot be met, speaking to one of your local attorneys will help.