Fence Etiquette to Avoid Disputes with Neighbors

wooden fence with plants and grass

Being on good terms with your neighbor can bring peace of mind. But the type of fence you build, where you build it and how you build it, may very well spoil that relationship. We’ll walk you through proper fence etiquette to avoid disputes with neighbors.

Know Your Property Line

One of the worst things you can do is infringe on your neighbor’s property, and that’s what you’re doing when you build the fence on their side of the property line. You’ll have an angry neighbor, and you also risk having to dismantle the fence and start over.

Study your plat (a drawing that maps out your land) to confirm your property boundaries. If you don’t have one, you can get a free one from your county or city records office. Alternatively, hire a surveyor to clarify your property’s borders. That will cost you between $500 and $1,000.

Most fence companies install fences a foot inside the line to be on the safe side. Don’t guess and don’t rely on the property line from the existing fence, as you don’t know if it’s accurate.

Know Your Limits

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Each area has its own zoning regulations for height, setbacks, and other restrictions. Review them with your fence company before installing your fence to avoid disputes.

In general, fences are limited to six feet high for side and back yards and four feet for front yards. Again, that varies by location. Corner lots often have greater restrictions due to blind curves that hinder drivers’ line of sight. If your fence is on the front or side of your property, consider driveway and walkway work that may be required.

Follow HOA rules

If you belong to a homeowners association (HOA), you’ll have to talk to them before getting a new fence. HOAs have their own style, height, and maintenance guidelines, and you’ll need to abide by them to avoid disputes – or an angry committee.

You’ll have to clarify these guidelines with your fencing company directly. Fencing companies aren’t expected to know HOA rules and regulations, and HOAs won’t usually bend the rules for you. If you aren’t proactive before installation, you’ll have to rebuild the fence to match HOA standards, which will cost you more money.

Talk to Your Neighbors

Before beginning, talk to your neighbors. They can help you resolve issues like where your property line is.

You don’t need to show them your design, as they might not like it (it isn’t in their control), but it shows that you care about their feelings. They might even be willing to split the installation cost with you! The only problems that might arise are if the fence lowers their property value or is dangerous.

Give Your Neighbors the Pretty Side

white vinyl fence in yard of a house
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It’s common fence etiquette to build your fence so the more attractive side, or “good side,” is in your neighbor’s yard. The ugly side is the one with all the cross members and hardware showing. It is polite and will make them happier, as they can admire its full charm. In some places, that is actually a required practice. It will also enhance your property’s overall appearance. In many places, it’s also a legal requirement.

However, there are reasons to give your neighbors the ugly side, provided you get their permission:

  1. If you have a dog that can hop the fence, take the good side, as it’s harder for them to climb. 
  2. If the back of your property faces the woods.

Some fences, known as “neighbor-friendly” fences, are identical on both sides. They come in many styles, including:

  • Modern horizontal: Sleek, modern, and made of horizontal boards.
  • Lattice: Thin slats make a crisscross pattern, creating square or diamond holes.
  • Shadowbox: Made of pickets that alternate on both sides of the rail. Light shines through the pickets to create a shadow effect.

Ask your fencing contractor about neighbor-friendly fences.

Maintain It

It’s up to you to maintain your fence and keep it looking attractive.If a section of your fence is leaning or rotting, replace it or shore it up. A damaged fence lowers your and your neighbor’s curb appeal, so you must make repairs as quickly as possible.

Different fencing materials have different maintenance requirements. For example, a wood fence might need regular staining, while a vinyl fence might only need occasional washing.

Though it might be tempting to only take care of your side, you are responsible for cleaning and maintaining both sides of the fence. After all, you were the one who installed it. Be sure to get your neighbor’s permission before entering their property to work on the other side of the fence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I want an extra high fence?

Apply to your zoning board for a variance. Neighbors can comment on your request during the variance hearing.

What if my neighbors are damaging my fence?

Talk to them first. If they don’t repair it, take your dispute to small claims court.

Can I use my neighbor’s fence to support decorations and other structures?

Ask your neighbors for permission before putting decorations and additional structures on their fence. Be a good neighbor.

The Final Word

Fences might separate you from your neighbors, but following fence etiquette brings you together. Keeping your neighbors informed throughout installation ensures you avoid disputes – and you both get a good fence out of it.

If you have any questions or are ready to install your fence, contact one of FenceGnome’s pros, and we’ll send you a quote in minutes.

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Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner is a writer and aspiring product designer based in New York City. When he isn’t doing either, Stuart enjoys heavy metal music, exercise, and trying new food and drinks.