Building your fence directly on top of your property line has the obvious benefit of enclosing your entire yard, giving you the maximum area in which to play, plant, and relax. Whether or not it’s a good idea to do that, though, depends on a few factors, including where you live and your neighbor’s feelings on the new fence. We’ll help you figure out how close you can build your fence to your property line.
Before you install:
Get a survey.
In order to know if your fence is on your property line, inside your property line or even on your neighbor’s property (yikes!), you’ll need a survey. Your county deed and assessor’s office may already have a copy, or you may have paid for one when you purchased your house. If not, these usually cost $500 to $1000 from a qualified surveyor. While this may seem expensive, it will save numerous headaches in the long run if you accidentally put the fence where it doesn’t belong and either have to rebuild the fence or address the issue in court with your neighbors!
Check rules and regulations.
Your jurisdiction may have laws about how far back a fence needs to be set on your property. It may be 2, 4, 6 or 8 inches from the property line. Other areas will allow you to go right up to the property line. These laws may depend on where you live: a subdivision with large yards where the setback won’t matter, versus an urban ro w home where those few inches really make a difference!
If you live in an area with a homeowner’s association, they may also have rules about fence placement, as well as the types of fence you can have in your front and back yards. Check your HOA covenants to make sure you are following the regulations.
After you install:
If you install your fence inside the property line, there are a few things you should be aware of when it comes to property maintenance, ownership and your neighbors.
If you install a fence inside your property line, you can’t forget about the part of your property outside the fence! While your neighbors might mow the additional strip of yard on their side to be nice, it’s technically your job to make sure the grass is cut, the weeds are pulled, and that it’s in good repair in general. You will need to plan access to that part of your property. If your neighbors install a fence inside their property line as well, leaving a narrow strip of grass between the two fences, you will need to decide who will maintain it and make sure there is a way to access the area. On the other hand, if your fence is right on the property line, you will have to determine if you neighbors will be responsible for fence maintenance on their side, or if you will be able to access their yard to stain or repair your fence when needed.
If you set a fence inside your property line and your neighbor is able to use the property outside of the line, that portion of your property may fall under prescriptive easement. Legally, this is a type of property easement that is earned by regular use of the property. While your neighbor would not gain a legal title to the land or be able to sell it, they may be able to claim a legal right to use the property. Clearly, if the property is outside of your fenced yard, it’s likely you are not regularly using it, which is where they may be able to claim prescriptive easement. This can make it difficult if you ever want to move the fence outward, or if you sell the house and the new owners think the property outside the fence is an issue, as they don’t want to pay for unusable land.
Adverse possession is even more legally binding than prescriptive easement. If the property “trespasser” (such as your neighbor who uses the small strip of land outside the fence) has exclusive and continuous use of the property for a number of years, he or she may claim adverse possession and legally gain ownership rights of the property. If your neighbor happens to pay taxes on that property, the adverse possession can be claimed in as little as five years, although this is very uncommon in a fence scenario! Still, you want to be aware if you install a fence inside your property line that in 10, 20 or 30 years when your home may be sold or transferred, you or the new owners may be surprised to learn that your property may not be quite as big as it used to be.
Aside from practical matters, like being able to use your full yard or abiding by local ordinances, selling your home may be impacted by the choices you make when you place a fence inside the property line versus on the property line. You might want to consult with multiple people – including a realtor, your local government representative, your HOA president, your neighbors, and a fence installation professional – before making a final decision.