Fences and Boundary Line Disputes

Fences are frequent sources of boundary line disputes

Fences are frequent sources of boundary line disagreements and disputes. A business or a homeowner decides to erect a fence without first determining where the actual property line lies. His neighbor then learns that the fence was not placed on the actual boundary line, but on his property. The neighbor might decide that the fence being on his property (encroachment) doesn’t bother him and does nothing about it. This approach has the advantage of preserving good will between the neighbors. However, if either owner decides to sell their property, they will need to disclose the encroachment to any potential buyers so that they can consider the issue as part of their purchasing decision.

Equal Contributions to Boundary Line Fence Maintenance

California code requires adjacent landowners equally contribute to maintain walls and fences between them, unless one of the two landowners chooses to let the remaining sides of his property remain unfenced. However, if that landowner later fences in his property, he will be responsible for payment of his proportional share of the original value of the common fence.

Spite Fences and boundary line disputes

What have become known as “spite fences” are also regulated by code. They are defined as “a fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance.” Trees and hedges that are planted in a row to form a perimeter may be deemed a fence. The law provides strong remedies, including injunctions, against “spite fences.”


A common question posed to real estate attorneys are in regard to a dispute with an adjoining landowner involving an encroachment. An example of encroachment would be when another person puts up a structure like a fence that intrudes on your property. This issue might come up if when one of your neighbors builds a structure that is partially on your property. Typically, the courts will apply one of three legal theories to resolve such a case. They are the doctrine of adverse possession or prescriptive easements, the agreed boundaries doctrine, or the relative hardship doctrine. Which method that would be most applicable in your particular situation is best determined by a qualified real estate attorney.

DiJulio Law Group