The Fence Authority’s Fence Wars series has so far covered two potential conflicts that can arise amongst neighbors due to their fences. Part 1 explored what to do when your yard is surrounded by neighboring fences that conflict with your design goals, and Part 2 discussed how to decide who gets the “good side” if you split the cost of a dividing fence with your neighbor. In Part 3, we’ll answer this stirring question: Can you force your neighbor to move a fence he built on your property?
When your neighbor puts up an unwanted fence on your property, this is one of the worst neighborly transgressions imaginable. After all, your space is your space, and if a neighbor’s fence falls within your property lines, it’s encroaching on additional yard space that is rightly yours. As hard as it may be, though, try to contain your rage and work through the conflict as calmly as possible.
Make sure the fence actually is on your property
There’s nothing worse than starting a conflict and then discovering you were the one in the wrong. Maybe that fence really isn’t on your property. To avoid embarrassment and negative feelings, do a little investigation before confronting your neighbor. You may be able to access your property’s plat online through your city or township’s website to see exactly where the boundaries of your yard fall. If your neighbor does not believe you when you bring up the issue, you can refer them to this document.
Possible complication: If the fence has been on your property for a significant period of time (20 or more years in PA), your neighbor may be able to claim adverse possession, meaning that portion of your property is now theirs.
Before you take it out on the fence, talk!
If you’ve been following this blog series, you may be tired of hearing it, but we can’t stress it enough: Talking is the best way to solve a conflict. Whether that fence was recently erected without your approval or has been a menace in your yard for years, your neighbor may turn out to be a lot more reasonable than you imagined. It’s entirely possible your neighbor had no idea their fence was on your property and that they’d immediately be sorry and willing to move it! Sadly, this is no guarantee, and not everyone is eager to move a fence, especially not a newly-installed fence. If you’re willing, you can offer to help with the moving process.
So, can you force your neighbor to move that fence?
Let’s say your neighbor is a bit uncompromising and won’t budge. Can you actually force them to move it? This is where it gets a bit complicated. One thing is for certain: you should avoid tearing it down without their consent. It may seem unfair, but this can result in legal trouble for you (and general bad blood). Whether or not you have any ability to force your neighbor to move their fence can vary from township to township. Seeking specialized legal counsel is likely to be your best bet.
Whatever you do, remain diplomatic about the situation. Want that invading fence to go away? Being polite will increase the chances that your neighbor is willing to compromise on a solution that satisfies you.