Are you planning a new fence in California and wondering about neighborly responsibilities and shared costs? Uncover essential insights for hassle-free installations!
January 10, 2023
Are you looking to get a new fence in California? If you are a homeowner in California, it is important to be familiar with the laws related to new fences and home improvement projects in the state. These include laws about fences on shared property lines, fence height, and necessary permits.
What is the California Good Neighbor Fence Act?
If you have a fence that is on a boundary line with a neighbor, then you should know about the California Good Neighbor Fence law. This will help you to understand what you and your neighbor are legally responsible for regarding your shared fence. The gist of the law is that since both parties are benefiting from having the boundary fence, there will be cost sharing with each neighbor responsible for half the costs.
The Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013 states: “Adjoining landowners are presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their properties and, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties in a written agreement, shall be presumed to be equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence.”
So, if you want to get a new fence on a boundary line with a neighbor you will most likely both have equal responsibility for the cost of the fence. However, it also means if your neighbor wants to get a new fence, you will be paying half the costs. Each will pay an equal share of costs including getting the new fence installed, maintenance of a fence, and replacing it when the time comes.
If you are planning to install a boundary fence with a neighbor, you must comply with the law by communicating your plan with your neighbor in the correct way. The law says you must notify your neighbor with a written notice 30 days in advance of the project. The notice must include a description of the proposed fence, a proposed division of costs, a proposed timeline for the project and an invitation to discuss the project.
Exceptions to the Good Neighbor Fence Act
There are exceptions to the Good Neighbor Fence Act. The costs have to be reasonable, so if the plan is unreasonably expensive or elaborate you will not be forced to pay half. Another scenario where a court could overrule the law is if one neighbor can prove that the cost would be too much of a financial hardship for them. Another exception is if the fence is not actually on the property line. In that case, the fence would be the responsibility of the homeowner who built it because it is wholly on their land. Another is that the fence is being replaced because of the personal taste of one neighbor. Just because they want a prettier fence doesn’t mean you have to pay part of it if there is already a fence there that is in good shape.
The same section of law that talks about fence ownership also explains what a "spite fence” is. A spite fence is when a neighbor builds a fence in spite of another neighbor. California civil code defines a spite fence as “any fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily exceeding ten feet in height maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance.”
Many times, spite fence arguments between property owners are resolved using outside intervention. This can start with simply communicating with your neighbor using an outside mediator and eventually end up with hiring a real estate attorney and heading to small claims court. Fence laws in California will not allow one neighbor to build a fence just to anger or frustrate another neighbor.
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Common Fence Disputes
Here are some common fence disputes that arise when residents think about building a "Good Neighbor Fence".
Placement of Fence
Despite the clear law, there are some common fence disputes. In some cases, two neighbors might have different ideas of where the property line is leading to an argument over the placement of the fence. If the two neighbors cannot come to an agreement on their own, they might have to go to court to prove where the boundary is legally.
If you have a boundary tree or trees with your neighbor, then there are some other possible disputes similar to disputes over fences that might arise. One neighbor is not allowed to trim the boundary tree or trees in a way that would impact the health of the tree. The limbs may be hanging over a homeowner’s yard but if trimming it would harm the tree, they are not allowed to trim the tree.
Fence Height and Permits
According to the California Building Code, Chapter 1, Section 105.2., a permit isn’t required if the fence is less than seven feet tall. However, keep in mind that you must still follow any other applicable laws and ordinances. There are still rules about the design or placement of the fence.
Check any local laws, or if there are restrictions made by your homeowner’s association before getting your fence installed. Typically, fence height can’t be more than four feet for your front yard, and can’t be more than six feet in your backyard. These restrictions could vary based on your town’s local ordinances so be sure to find out what those are before you begin.
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Call Before You Dig
Before you can begin digging on your property, it’s important for the land to be surveyed and have the utilities marked. By doing this, you can avoid major accidents like hitting a utility line which could injure or even kill someone. Before you start your new fence, call the Underground Service Alert organization (811) if you live in Northern California and by visiting the dig alert website if you live in Southern California. This service is free to use and if you decide not to call before digging it could result in fines of up to $50,000.
We hope you have a better idea of the laws and regulations that relate to getting a fence in California. Our customers have mentioned how our itemized quotes make splitting costs with their neighbors an easier process. We also take care of calling 811 to inspect the property so you don’t have to.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a couple of frequently asked questions to know before building a fence in California.
Does homeowner insurance cover the cost to repair or replace my fence in California?
Homeowner insurance will cover the cost of repairing or replacing your fence if the cause of the damage was due to a covered event. These vary by plan so check your insurance policy to find out exactly what will be covered. In many cases, covered events are things like storms, fires or vandalism. If it was wear and tear or lack of upkeep that caused the damage to your fence that will likely not be covered.
Can my neighbor make me pay for a fence in California?
If a fence is constructed on the boundary line between your property and your neighbor’s, California’s Good Neighbor Fence Act says that the two neighbors must evenly split the costs of fence construction, maintenance, and eventual replacement. If you believe that the price of the fence is too high or is being built to spite you, and you’ve already talked to your neighbor and they will not come to a compromise, you can try mediation and after that take the case to small claims court.