Must my neighbor pay for the damage he's caused to my fence?

Question:

My next door neighbor and I share a common backyard chain link fence. I paid for it more than 10 years ago, before he moved in. He repeatedly places wet rugs, towels, etc., across the top rail of the fence. It is beginning to rust in those areas. The neighbor is uncooperative. May I remove and discard the rugs -- or at least cut away and discard the portion hanging in my yard?

Answer:

That rust must be annoying and unsightly. But please do not take or harm those rugs. It will irretrievably confuse the issue and probably heighten bad tempers, too.

If your neighbor is using the fence -- that is, if his property is also enclosed by it -- both of you are responsible for taking care of it. He cannot cause it to rust without paying up at least a share of the damage. If the fence belongs totally to you, your neighbor is in even deeper trouble. He single-handedly is ruining your property.

First, do nothing on your side of the fence to make matters worse. Then make an honest stab at computing the costs of the damages. Perhaps a paint job with a no-rust compound would do the trick. With your damages computation in hand, approach your neighbor again and explain that as a co-owner of the fence he is responsible for sharing the cost of maintenance and repair. If he is still unresponsive, there are two places to which you might turn for relief. One is a mediator, who might help you resolve not only the nagging rusty fence issue, but other areas of contention. It sounds as if there are a few. You might also considering suing your less-than-neighborly neighbor in small claims court for money to compensate you for the damage to the fence.

For more information, see Nolo's Mediation, Arbitration & Collaborative Law Resource Center and Small Claims Resource Center. For in-depth explanations of fences and boundary lines, check out Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise.

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