Frank J. Buchman

Cowboy • Horseman • Writer

Laws Vary On Upkeep Of Fences With Neighbors

The old adage, “Good fences make good neighbors,” has stood the test of time.

A good boundary fence, also called a partition fence, has many benefits, especially marking the property line, as people generally stay on their side, said John Schwarz, who has done extensive study on fence laws.

Bad or no fences make even worse neighbors,” because when a boundary fence falls into disrepair, is removed, or simply rusts away, the boundary line becomes unclear and leads to misunderstandings, which generally leads to lawsuits.

Simply, people are more apt to enter onto your farm when a fence is not present, farm over the property line, and just about everything else in between.

Knowing the fence law can help spread the cost out, because in most instances the benefits too are spread out.

Many states require that landowners on each side of the fence contribute to a boundary fence.

This harkens back to the days of the settling of this country where it was presumed that both owners would benefit from the same fence, because practically everyone had livestock, so each should share the cost.

Today, even if one landowner does not have livestock, many states hold that the owner without livestock still benefits by having a fence. Mainly because the fence clearly marks the boundary line.

However, the fence could dissuade trespassers from coming across both owners’ property, keep in pets, children, and provide other benefits as well to the adjoining landowner.

So, how does a farmer who wants or needs a partition fence built, rebuilt, or repaired, avoid having to shoulder the entire cost of such, especially when the adjoining neighbor benefits?

Riding to the rescue is a bevy of fence laws across the country that require the adjoining neighbor to build some portion of the fence in various instances.

The National Agricultural Law Center reports that all 50 states have enacted statutes that address issues of farm fences that act as partition fences and the responsibility of adjoining landowners. These “fence law” statutes vary widely from state to state.

In general, the owners of adjoining Kansas lands are required to build and maintain in good repair all partition fences in equal shares, unless the parties agree otherwise.

The duty to maintain a partition fence confers on the landowner the privilege to lawfully enter onto the adjoining landowner’s property at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner to maintain the fence.

In practice, many adjoining landowners adopt the “right-hand” or “left-hand” rule they face each other at the mid-point of their fence and agree to build and/or maintain the portion of the fence to either their respective right or left. The Kansas law states that building and maintenance is to be in equal shares rather than in halves.

Of course, adjacent landowners can execute a written fence agreement specifying the part of the fence that each party is responsible for building or maintaining. Such an agreement can be recorded and thereby become part of the land records that will bind subsequent owners of the properties.

In Indiana, the law requires adjacent landowners to share in the cost of building and/or maintaining a partition fence via the “right hand rule.”

If the neighbor refuses to build their half, then once you build your right-hand section, and the neighbor refuses to build or pay for their half, you are to ask the township trustee to mandate the neighbor build their portion.

If they still refuse, the trustee can have the section built and the bill goes on the adjoining neighbor’s tax bill.

In Michigan, the adjoining neighbor only has to pay if they begin “restraining or containing animals” and then a “fence viewer.”

A township trustee, or someone hired by the township trustee, can determine if the neighbor is using a fence constructed or maintained by an adjoining property owner, and if so, what percentage of the cost of construction and maintenance of the fence the neighbor is responsible for.

Ohio has a lengthy partition fence law with each county having a “partition fence record” where fence agreements between neighbors can be filed.

Whether or not the adjoining neighbor has to help with the cost or maintenance of the fence will depend on if there was an agreement prior, if there was a partition fence prior, or if the neighbor starts making use of the fence.

Illinois’s fence law holds that when two or more persons have lands adjoining, each of them shall make and maintain a “just proportion” of the division fence between them.

Disputes are also handled under the “fence viewer” procedure, but each party gets to select a fence viewer and if these two individuals cannot agree, then they select another fence viewer to weigh in.

When it comes to partition fences, there is a common theme that runs across most of the states and that is boundary fences are important, most times both property owners’ benefit, and thus there should be a shared cost in all, or at least some circumstances.

For those who build or reconstruct a fence and believe the adjoining neighbor should help in the cost, it is important to follow the statute to a “T”.

First, good fences do make good neighbors. Second, just because you don’t have a use for the fence now, you may later.

In many, if not most instances, partition fences are just as important as they were 100 years ago.

Knowing your state’s fence laws will, hopefully, allow for a shared cost for a good fence that will make even better neighbors.


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