Can my neighbor replace our shared fence and require me to pay a share?

Shared payment for a fence is not required in every situation!

Question

My neighbor wants to replace her entire fence, which will include a panel between our two properties. She plans to replace it so that all three sides of her fence match visually for her -- but then my three fence panels won’t match! And, she sent me a letter demanding that I pay for one-third of the cost of her replacement, since I “benefit” from her new fence. What should I do?

Answer

A considerate neighbor in this situation would, of course, realize the impact of her decision and consult you on her desire to replace her fence panels. But not all neighbors are considerate people. Your neighbor might not realize the effect that this will have on your house, resulting in three non-matching panels. Or, your neighbor might simply not care about the effect on your home.

Either way, you need to initiate a conversation. Your initial leverage is that there is no requirement that you contribute financially to pay the one-third share she is demanding. You need not take a hostile tone, at least to begin. You might say something like, “I would be glad to contribute a one-third share. But since I would like all three sides of my fence to match, let’s try to find a style that will work for both of us.” This makes it clear that you’re not unreasonable or unwilling to contribute, but you’re also not a pushover. You have no intention of having a non-matching fence, and paying for the privilege!

You should also consider getting in touch with your neighborhood association, if you live in a planned community that is governed by one. Many neighborhood associations, particularly in small suburban communities, have very specific regulations regarding the design of common elements like fences. Their aim is to maintain an aesthetic uniformity from house to house, so that a chain-link fence isn't followed by a white picket fence and then followed by a post-and-rail wooden fence. Perhaps your neighborhood association has a number of styles from which you and your neighbor can pick.

If these approaches do not work, your fallback option is to refuse to pay her anything, and then pay to add a third panel on your own property that matches your initial two panels (meaning that there would be two fence panels between your home and your neighbor’s home). This is not uncommon in suburban areas. But it is also highly inefficient and will cost both of you more than simply agreeing on a fence design. It is in both of your interests to find an aesthetic that you agree on, and share part of the cost.

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