LESLIE: Exactly. We’ve got Ella on the line with a question about a property line dispute over boundary fencing. How can we help you today?
ELLA: I would like to know whose job it is to establish boundary fencing.
TOM: In terms of the property line, where it is?
TOM: Yeah. So, OK – so the person putting up the fence is responsible to do that. And in most municipalities, you have to have a copy of your survey. And the survey determines, of course, where your property line is. And then if there’s a permit that’s taken out for the fencing – and in some towns there is and some towns there isn’t – that would be also one thing that the building inspector would check, to make sure it’s on the right side of the line.
But is this you putting up the fencing or is this your neighbor maybe encroaching on your yard?
ELLA: Well, my neighbor actually put the fence on the boundary line but it actually blocks the snow part – I live in New York, Upstate New York – and the snow removal on my driveway. And so the city is telling me that they don’t read surveys.
TOM: Yeah, that’s convenient, huh?
ELLA: Yeah. And so they issued the permit – of course, I wasn’t home – and then the fence was constructed. And now, basically, they say it’s a civil matter. But isn’t that what a code inspector or a building inspector is supposed to do? Isn’t that what my taxes pay for, as part of the job?
TOM: Yeah. I mean you would – well, you would hope so but I don’t think you’re going to fight City Hall on this, frankly. Have you tried talking to this neighbor about this issue regarding this dispute over boundary fencing?
ELLA: Well, he’s not interested now that the fence is in disrepair. He’s not interested in splitting the cost or anything, which is typical from my research about boundary fences. It’s usually the city gets both sides involved. And we agree on a middle and I take one side and he takes the other and we maintain it. But in this case, that’s not what happened.
TOM: So he put the fence up. Is there a good side and a bad side of the fence or are they both the same?
ELLA: He put the good side to me.
LESLIE: So, OK, that’s correct.
TOM: OK. He has to do that, yeah. That’s correct. He has to do that.
ELLA: There was already an existing fence and he didn’t match the fences. And he actually got a sale on fence pieces so just the fence really looks pretty bad. It’s just different panels, you know, 4×8 sheets of paneling fence (inaudible).
TOM: Yeah. Well, unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do in this property line dispute over boundary fencing about the aesthetics if it’s not – if it’s permitted, they can put any kind of darn fence they want there. They’re usually – they’re controlled by the height of the fencing.
TOM: Is it tall fencing or is it low fencing?
ELLA: Well, he got the permit for a 6-foot fence.
TOM: Yeah, then he’s allowed to do that. And does it come all the way out to the street or is it …?
ELLA: No, it came in – it came off, so – because, again, I live smack dab in the middle of the city. So it’s set back. It’s just that because we have no place to put our snow, now this boundary fencing is preventing me. Because my house is on one side and then now this fence is on the other. And we got 36 or 39 inches of snow this winter, so …
TOM: So in other words, in this dispute over boundary fencing, the fence is preventing you from being able to go and clear the snow away from your house? Is that correct?
LESLIE: Well, that’s not good.
TOM: That’s not good, yeah.
ELLA: It’s just everything I’m reading says that the – like you said, the building instructor or the codes person, in some of the things I’ve read – nobody seems to be responsible for the survey. So they’re arbitrarily issuing permits.
TOM: So, first of all – right. So, first of all, when did you buy your house?
ELLA: Oh, years ago now.
TOM: And you have a survey?
ELLA: Absolutely, yes.
TOM: Well, here’s what you can do. You should, first of all, check and make sure that he put it on his property and not yours.
ELLA: Right. Well, it’s on the boundary, so it’s right – it’s not on his and it’s not on mine. I think what a boundary is, literally, the invisible line that separates the properties and …
TOM: Right. But the thing is, even if it’s – is it allowed to be on the line at all? In my view, it has to be on his side of the property, on his side of the line. He doesn’t get the right to encroach even an inch into your side of the property.
ELLA: Right. And that was my understanding, too, but there are no regulations in the city codes that say anything about a boundary fence or …
TOM: Well, look, here’s the deal. If he put it – if that fence is encroaching on your property, you have a case, alright? And the only way that that’s going to be determined is if you have a surveyor certify that that’s the case. Now, that’s going to cost you some money because surveyors don’t work for free. They’ll take your old survey and they’ll use reference points from it and they can give you a new survey or a statement that basically identifies whose side of the line it’s on.
And then, unfortunately, I agree with them: this property line dispute over boundary fencing is going to be a civil matter. You could certainly get the town involved and you could become a real squeaky wheel on this. And frankly, I’d encourage you do to do it because they’re sort of asking for it by kind of washing their hands of the whole matter. But I think when it comes down to it, you’ve got to get the proof. So the proof is the surveyor, right? A licensed surveyor is going to have to tell you where exactly that fence is. And I don’t think you get to put it down the middle of a line. I think it’s got to be on his – if it’s his fence, it’s got to be on his side.
And generally, the right thing to do – and I always tell folks on this show the right thing to do is to give yourself a few inches of wiggle room. Because it would be awful if your survey was off by a few inches and you ended up having to tear the fence down.
TOM: So, who knows? That could happen. If it turns out that he’s even an inch on your line, then I think he gets very flexible very quickly and does what you need to be done so that you can live in peace and harmony. OK?
ELLA: Well, thank you so much for your advice.
TOM: Alright. Good luck in this property line dispute over boundary fencing. Sorry to hear that’s happened to you. I hope that helps you out a little bit.
ELLA: It does. Thanks.