Read on to make sure you—and your clients—know how to handle boundary fence costs.

Agent responsibilities to buyer or seller

When you’re representing a seller, part of the due diligence inspection and walk-through of the property involves noting any items in need of repair — including fences. If it’s a shared boundary fence, it’s your responsibility to educate the seller on the 30-day notice required on boundary fence repairs. This procedure may prolong not only repairs to the boundary fence, but the sale of the house.

Whether or not the property requires boundary fence maintenance, pass the new notice requirements along. If the buyer requests the fence be repaired as part of the purchase negotiations and the seller agrees, the seller gives the 30-day notice of repairs to their neighbor. However, if the buyer accepts the condition of the property in its present “as disclosed” condition, the buyer assumes responsibility of the fence after escrow closes. In this case, the buyer needs to know the 30-day notice process required if the buyer is to have the adjoining owner cooperate in the cost of the fence repair or replacement.

Need to brush up on boundary fences?  We’ve got you covered.

Boundaries: the basics

A boundary is any structure or monument between two adjoining landowners. Boundaries can be anything — a large tree trunk, ditch or improvement. Common boundaries include a:

  • waterway,
  • driveway, or
  • manmade fence.

Notification given to other landowners

The most common type of boundary is a shared fence, also known as a boundary fence. Disputes about who is responsible for the cost of erecting and maintaining boundary fences often crop up between neighbors. Here are the new rules for 2014:

Before construction, maintenance or replacement of a boundary fence, an owner of any real estate is required to give a 30-day written notice to each neighbor who shares responsibility for the fence. [Calif. Civil Code §841]

Unless otherwise specified by alternative written agreement between adjacent property owners, each owner is equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance or replacement.

The 30-day written notice defines each owner’s responsibility for sharing the cost of maintaining the boundary fence. [See first tuesday form 323]

Related articles:

Common boundary fences — an owner’s 30-day notice to construct, replace or maintain the fence

Cost contributions — yours and mine

The exception to equally sharing the costs incurred by boundary fences is if the costs are considered unreasonable. Costs are unreasonable if:

  • the financial burden for one owner is substantially higher than the benefit of the fence to that owner;
  • the cost of the fence exceeds the difference in value of any of the owners’ land before and after the fence’s installation;
  • the construction or maintenance of the fence imposes an undue financial hardship on either owner;
  • the construction or maintenance are unnecessary or excessive; or
  • the costs are a result of one owner’s aesthetic or architectural preferences. [Calif. Civil Code §841]

Consider a property owner who decides to upgrade their landscaping for cosmetic purposes. Part of their renovation calls for them to update a boundary fence shared with a neighbor. The fence is structurally sound, but the property owner tells their neighbor the boundary fence is “old and ugly looking.” No preexisting agreement compels the neighbor to pay for a share of the boundary fence upgrade. Still, 30 days before the property owner begins the boundary fence update, the property owner delivers to their neighbor a written disclosure of the neighbor’s responsibility for part of the cost of the upgrade.

The neighbor objects to the boundary fence upgrade, and refuses to pay for a cosmetic upgrade. The neighbor makes their objection known to the property owner. The property owner ignores the neighbor’s objections and continues with the upgrade.

After the boundary fence is rebuilt, the property owner sends their neighbor a bill for a portion of the cost of the fence upgrade. The neighbor refuses to pay, claiming the property owner’s work on the fence was purely cosmetic and thus the neighbor was not compelled to pitch in for the fence upgrade costs.

Is the property owner able to compel payment from their neighbor for a portion of the fence cost?

No! A neighbor is not compelled to pay unreasonable costs in the maintenance or repair of a boundary fence. Here, the property owner’s purely cosmetic upgrade is considered an unreasonable cost.  [CC §841]

If your buyer or seller are considering a boundary fence repair or upgrade, have your client talk to the neighbor about the boundary fence repair before serving the mandatory notice. Concerns about cost or responsibility are easier to broach in person, rather than by service of a notice. Sometimes, it’s good neighbors who make good (boundary) fences.