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Working With Neighbors When Repairing Fences

Ask the Real Estate Lawyer: Real Estate Law Q&A

REM #LAW 673

By Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin

Summary: Neighbors may not have rights when it comes to your fence, but good neighbors will work to keep the neighbor involved. Different parts of the country have different laws regarding rights to your neighbors yard to work on your fence. Ilyce Glink and Sam Tamkin suggest talking with the neighbors before changing anything they will look at every day.

Q: A friend bought a house with a wood fence around the property. It’s her fence but it is located close to her property line. Does she have a right to go onto her neighbor's property to seal or stain the fence even if they don't like the idea?
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Does she need to ask permission to go on their land? Can her neighbor dictate what color she can use on the other side of the fence?

A: As you said, the fence is your friend’s fence. But I don’t understand why she won’t talk to the neighbor and get permission to seal or stain the fence. In most parts of the country, you need the neighbor’s permission to go onto their land. In some parts of the country, laws have been passed to give an adjacent owner a limited right to go onto a neighbor’s land to make repairs to a property. Thus your friend’s right to access your neighbor’s land will depend on where you live.

Before your friend tries to seal or stain the fence, she should try to talk to the neighbor and perhaps even offer the neighbor a color choice for the other side of the fence.

Your friend won’t see the other side of the fence, so she would be wise to let the neighbor pick the seal or stain that will be used. The neighbor is going to look at that fence every day.

When it comes to fences, most homeowners forget that working out these kinds of issues with neighbors is even more important than who has the legal right to do something.

Even if the law gives your friend the right to maintain the fence by going onto her neighbor’s property, wouldn’t your friend be better off having a good relationship with her neighbor than having an enemy as a neighbor?

Your friend’s first course of action should be to try to work something out with the neighbor. If the neighbor refuses to talk to your friend and won’t work with her in any way, your friend may decide to stain only her side of the fence or may need to seek advice from an attorney in her area to decide how to approach the issue.

Your friend may find it cheaper and less stressful to keep her side of the fence in good condition and let the other side stay as it is. At the very least, the fence may last a bit longer with the maintenance on her side and keep neighborhood relations on a more friendly level.

Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is 50 Simple Steps You Can Take To Sell Your Home Faster and For More Money In Any Market. If you have questions for them, write: Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, IL 60022 or contact them through Ilyce’s website




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