Fence Wars Part 1: What can I do if my property is surrounded by my neighbors’ fences?

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Robert Frost wrote that good fences make good neighbors, but it might be more accurate to say good fence etiquette makes good neighbors. When a neighbor’s fence conflicts with your own design goals or infringes on your property lines, it may begin an ongoing struggle with your neighbors over the proper use of your adjoining outdoor spaces. In the interest of fostering peace and better outdoor design, the Fence Authority will address common questions about fence conflicts over the next few weeks: problems that persist over years and leave neighborhood discord in their wake.

This first part of the series discusses what to do when your neighbors surround your yard with mismatching fences. Looks like it’s time to go on the D-Fence!

D-Fence.jpgWhile there are always factors out of your control when you’re designing your yard, few things can complicate your outdoor plans more than sharing borders with one, two, or three other households. This is especially true when your neighbors all have different styles of fencing, whether it’s as minor as different colors or as major as different heights or materials.

In an ideal world, you would have coordinated with your neighbors before they installed their fences, but sometimes circumstances are against us. However, all is not lost. Instead of allowing your resentment to simmer, here are a few actions you can take:

Option 1: Getting Your Neighbors to Cooperate

It’s likely that your neighbors will be reasonable about what you do with your side of their fences, since they won’t see your side anyway. Painting the side of the fence that faces your yard is an easy way to get differing colors of fencing to match and therefore make them much more pleasing to your eye. This option makes most sense if your neighbors have a wood fence.

Best case scenario: If they’ve been considering a new fence anyway and agree that theirs is a terrible sight, then you’re in luck because you can work together to find a solution that makes you both happy.

Option 2: Gardening with Shrubbery and Vines for Privacy

fence-and-hedge.jpgWhile painting a wood privacy fence is a possible solution, what if one of your neighbors has a fence that doesn’t lend itself to painting, such as an aluminum fence?  They may also simply not want you to paint their fence.

If you’re looking at a fence that can’t be improved with a coat of paint, planting a hedgerow or other shrubbery is a good way to soften your yard’s appearance, hide your neighbor’s fence, and give you some privacy. Your neighbor may also be open to turning it into a living fence. Creeping vines and aluminum fences in particular go together like roses and thorns. Trees or topiaries can also provide a measure of privacy if you’d like a space safe from prying eyes.

Option 3: Incorporating Your Neighbor’s Fences into Your Design

While being surrounded by different types of fencing may seem frustrating, a little creativity can turn a blessing into a curse. Transforming your yard into an outdoor living space, complete with “rooms” for leisure, cooking, gardening or other activities, could be easier with two or three different “walls” to work with! For example, gardening next to a chain link fence could provide structural support for certain kinds of climbing plants, while a tall, wooden or composite privacy fence can serve as the perfect backdrop for a standalone deck or a minimalist, zen-inspired space perfect for contemplation and relaxation.

Option 4: Installing Your Own Privacy Fence

Perhaps none of your neighbors welcomes your brilliant ideas for living fences or accepts your offer to paint a whole side of their fence, free of charge. Perhaps trees and topiaries just aren’t on your vision board and you’d prefer the elegant but functional look of your own privacy fence. You always have the option of installing your own fence next to your neighbors’. This could be the easiest way to make your yard’s appearance more uniform, especially if looking at different heights of fence on all sides of your property, day in and day out, is keeping you up at night.neighbors-with-fence-and-hedge

While designing your yard is a challenge when your neighbors have you fenced in, it’s easy to turn it into an opportunity to make your yard a unique outdoor living space, sowing the seeds of neighborly peace where unrest once reigned.

Have you come up with a brilliant aesthetic or functional solution to a neighbor’s unadorned chain link fence? Do you just need to vent about being stuck between an unfinished wood fence and a dark gray vinyl fence? Commiserate and scheme by dropping us a line in the comments!

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  • Paul Marzolla says:

    I have a 6’solid white vinyl fence to my right which ends at the rear of my neighbors home and continues in the form of a 3′ picket to the front. A 6′ solid with lattice top to my left ending at that neichbors rear and a 4′ weathered cedar along the rear of my property. The properties on my left and right are raised 1′ to accommodate pools. The fence to the rear and to the right are on the property line if not slightly over and the left is inward about 1 1/2′. After much thought I would like to have extra long vinyl fence posts set along my property line and/or butting the existing ones to my right and to my rear. I would then place retaining wall blocks ( first row buried) in between posts and elevated to match my neighbors property height. I would then have the panels attached to the posts and soil spread to level the yard. And I would install solid black fencing. Please share your thoughts.

  • joe neilson says:

    what about building a fence within a fence ? im surrounded by fences i cant stand and want to build a custom brick fence can i legally build a fence within a fence ?

    • Fence Authority says:

      Joe, you will need to check local rules, but you should be able to build a “fence within a fence.” Keep in mind, though, that fences cannot be built too close to each other, so you may lose valuable yard space.

  • Mauro says:

    I have a newly built property with a newly built fence that was built behind an older subdivision. The two neighbors I have behind my house have torn down their already existing fence and are now technically using mine as their own fence. What can be done to have them put their fences back up? Also, there was a two-foot gap separating the fences.

  • Luisa Simoes says:

    What happens if his fence is dividing his walkway set in concrete on his steps and walkway .Half of his boards are falling,paint is chipping and you reach out multiple times without an answer? Let’s say I try to fix it and he calls the law enforcement claiming that I am touching his property? Is that a requirement for the FHA loans that you fix the neighbors property?

  • David says:

    What is the best scenario for me. I own one side of the fence and the other 2 sides are neighbors fence and they do not match. Can I build myown fence ?

    • Fence Authority says:

      David, check local rules, but you should be able to build your own fence. Keep in mind, though, that the fences cannot be built too close together, so you may be losing valuable yard space!

  • Gloria says:

    When we built our house, we planted arborvitaes instead of fences. the deer are eating the arborvites now. What kind of fence can I use that will keep the deer out but I can still see the trees

  • Nick Winnenberg says:

    Option 3, Curse into a blessing. Not Blessing into a curse!

  • Trish says:

    Neighbor has landscaping sprinkler lines in line of fence post. Survey done she won’t move lines can I continue and build fence?? She has done several things to my land and I just want my privacy

  • Carl D McDonald says:

    I am just wondering why does a fence builder have more rights than someone who doesn’t want a fence? How is it fair for someone to build a fence on a property line and then you have to take away yard space because of not being allowed to build up against that existing fence?

  • Josh says:

    I am wondering what some of you feel about using a privacy screen on a common fence between myself and my neighbor? I live in California and live in an unincorporated small farm town. our 1 acre property is surrounded by fences but we would like our privacy for our own yard. If the fence is already up covering it would only make it seem like there is a solid fence so I don’t see the problem with that.

  • Margo says:

    I have a lovely view looking directly out of my kitchen into the yard. The view to the right is also lovely but the view to the left is heinous.
    I wanted light and airy feeling fences in the front and to the right but would it look silly to have a more substantial fence on the left? So basically two different styles of fences within a small yard?
    We are working with a landscaping company and they said it won’t look good but I’m not sure I trust them.

  • Lynn says:

    Our unfriendly neighbours claim the chain link fence separating our back yards is on their property line and they paid for it. We bought this house years after they bought theirs. We have no proof that the fence is theirs or on their property. We attached a privacy lattice very sparingly with wire similar to the chain link for a few feet so that we have some privacy from them when we sit on out lower decks. They have told us to take it down because the fence is theirs. They complain about a few weeds in our yard that we are completely relandscaping and it is beautiful. But we work full time and can’t attend to every weed under 6”. They have reported us once and threaten to do so again. They are retired and spend all their time pampering their perfect yard that they obviously landscaped years before we moved into our home. They are neighbours from hell and are making our lives miserable. What can we do? Thank you.

  • meerka says:

    Can you contact the previous owners that you bought the house from to get the real story?
    We’ve got neighbors like that on one side. They cut down one of our bushes claiming it was theirs, as well as some of our property on the other side of their fence. In retaliation, I turned them in for having built their garage too close to the property line. (apparently they never got a permit and had to pay a fine).
    I had spoken with the previous owners of our house and they said the fence line was on the actual property line between our houses and the nasty neighbors did put that fence up. The previous owners did what they wanted on their side and the nasty neighbors did their thing on the other. After that incident, I told the nasty neighbors to get a staked survey done and to this date, 15 years later, they haven’t done a thing and we haven’t spoken. We just installed a back fence recently, didn’t touch their fence and they’re spitting nails.
    Some of the neighbors here put up a spite fence 6 inches to about a foot from their fence (check with the state you live in) that might be in order for you so you don’t have to look at their sour faces. Good luck

  • Stacey Howard says:

    I have a neighbor who’s fence is leaning into her yard and the wooden post are coming apart. Im doing what i can to keep my dogs from going through the rotten post into her yard. I want to build my own separate fence. What can i do

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