Solution 5: Share a Yard

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For many people, outside is a great place to be. People spend a lot of money and time making their yards, decks, terraces, gardens, and gazebos appealing. And you can double your outdoor space simply by taking down the fence between your yard and your neighbor's.

Take Down the Fence Between You and Your Neighbor

If you have a good relationship with your neighbor and you both own your homes (or have the blessing of your landlords), you can expand your yard space by taking down the fence between your yard and your neighbor's. The benefits include:

  • more yard space for both households
  • space that's large enough for sports or parties
  • a shared garden (and more gardeners)
  • better views
  • shortcuts
  • easy access to shared tools, furniture, and other resources that are owned by each household, and
  • a feeling of greater spaciousness in the backyard.

Some neighbors make a conscious decision to get rid of a fence and share space. Other times, fences come down naturally, and neighbors decide not to replace them. For example, one of the authors has a back-fence neighbor who remodeled a garage, which required the removal of a small fence and gate between the two properties. When the project was finished, both households decided that they would rather leave the fence down. Now the young boys who live in one house wander into the other yard to pick lemons off the tree, locate their cat in her favorite spot on a lounge chair, or simply have more safe places to play.

Legal Issues Applicable to Fence Removal

If you take down a fence, especially a major one, it's a good idea to have a written agreement with your neighbors, to clarify if, when, and how the fence will be rebuilt; how much it will cost; and who will pay for it. To avoid boundary disputes that could occur later, it's also a good idea to leave a few posts or something else to demarcate the boundary if the removal of the fence makes that less clear.

Also, be aware that removing a fence could affect a boundary dispute later, primarily because it could destroy an adverse possession claim. According to the law of adverse possession, if someone openly possesses someone else's land for the length of time specified in the state adverse possession law (usually five to 20 years), that person could claim title to the land. So, for example, if your fence is actually on your neighbor's property, it could eventually "redraw" the property line.

EXAMPLE: The Fennig family and the Bodhi family removed a fence between their homes. Nine years earlier, before the Fennigs house was built, the Bodhis put up a fence that was six feet over the property line. This meant that the Bodhis were possessing a significant portion of what was to become the Fennig's yard. Two years after removing the fence, the Fennigs moved and sold their house to the Kirui family. The Kiruis requested a survey and discovered that they owned that portion of property six feet beyond where the fence had been. Had they not removed the fence, the Bodhis may have been able to keep the land, because their state law of adverse possession would have allowed them to get title after possessing it for ten years.

If you have no doubt that the fence correctly demarks the boundary line, this will not likely be a concern for you. If not, however, it's something to consider before removing a fence.

Finally, if you are going to share your yard, make sure there's nothing on your property that could be what's called an "attractive nuisance" for children. This means anything that is dangerous but that children would naturally be interested in exploring, like an old refrigerator, tools or building supplies, or an unfenced well, pool, or other body of water.

Learn more about neighbors and fences. Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise, by Cora Jordan and Emily Doskow (Nolo), explains the relevant legal rules about shared fences, as well as rules about attractive nuisances and easements and other permissions to use someone else's property.

Sample Yard Sharing Agreement

This agreement is between VICKI and BOB ROBLES, owners of 124 Monte Vista Avenue, and DONNA and PHILLIP LEUNG, owners of 128 Monte Vista Avenue.

  1. We have decided to remove the fence between our homes to create more space for our children and pets to play, and to create a pleasant shared garden environment.
  2. By removing the fence between our houses, we do not intend to redraw property lines or create an easement.
  3. Either of us may decide at any time to terminate this arrangement, at which time we will reconstruct the fence. If one of us moves or sells their house, we may decide to reconstruct the fence then.
  4. We will reconstruct the fence in the same location, which is marked by a few remaining posts. If and when we reconstruct a fence, the fence will be constructed in the following manner: (Describe fencing materials, height, and so on). We will split the cost equally.
  5. Both parties carry homeowner's liability insurance.
  6. If one of us is injured on the other's property, we agree to indemnify and hold harmless that property owner for all injury-related costs that are not covered by that property owner's homeowner's liability insurance. We are not waiving our rights to make claims against that property owner's homeowner's liability insurance. We are, however, agreeing to not hold that property owner responsible for any additional costs beyond those paid by the homeowner's insurance.
  7. This agreement is only between the current owners of the homes and does not attach to the properties or bind any future owners of the homes. We will not record this document.

Sharing Your Yard for Recreation

Even if you don't take down your fence, sharing your yard is a great idea, especially if there are children in the neighborhood. Everyone could have access to swing sets, swimming pools, trampolines, basketball hoops, tetherballs, gardens, hot tubs, exercise equipment, or large lawns for sports.

The primary concerns that arise when you allow other people to use your yard and equipment for recreation are safety and liability. In many ways, neighborhoods where people share yards are safer than most, primarily because everyone knows and looks out for everyone else. At the same time, it's good to set clear limits about who has access to your yard, when, what they may do there, and whether they should notify you before coming over.

As for liability concerns, many, but not all, homeowners will be protected from liability by laws made for the purpose of encouraging recreation. Every state has a recreational use statute, to encourage private property owners to allow others to use land for recreational purposes. These statutes typically exempt the property owner from liability for injuries that take place as a result of the types of recreational use listed in the statute. Take a look at your state's statute and find out what it covers; you can find a list of state statutes at http://asci.uvm.edu/equine/law/recreate/recreate.htm.

Homeowner's liability is a complicated area of law, and it's difficult to completely protect against liability. There are always exceptions to recreational use laws and ways to get around liability waivers. You should still make sure that you are adequately protected by your homeowner's insurance. If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, check with your homeowner's insurance company to find out whether you are covered for pool-related injuries and deaths. Some pool owners obtain special insurance policies that apply just to swimming pools. And of course, anyone with a pool or other potentially dangerous equipment, such as a trampoline, should take extra precautions. These may include keeping lifesaving equipment nearby, never allowing children without a parent, and prohibiting anyone from swimming alone, for example.

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