We live in a beautiful neighborhood, where each resident puts a great deal of thought and effort into the appearance of their home. Most houses have nice white picket fences around them; some are elegant pine stakes; others are charming lattice birch. One neighbor, though, has put up a hideous metal chain-link fence. It doesn’t match the character of the neighborhood at all. Can I sue my neighbor to force him to put up another fence?
Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to prevail in a lawsuit against your neighbor because of an ugly fence. If a neighbor plays loud music, or has terrible odors that cross over the border onto yours, you might have a legal cause of action called “nuisance.” Nolo offers extensive guidance for these situations, ranging from second-hand smoke to barking dogs. Courts will force neighbors to stop such nuisances, and sometimes award homeowners money damages for the trouble suffered.
Most courts would not regard a neighbor’s sloppy aesthetic choices as a nuisance, in the legal sense. A property owner generally has a right to decorate (or not decorate) a property however he or she sees fit.
That said, if you live in a community with a homeowners' association, the association might actually have certain aesthetic standards that all residents agree to maintain. The association has an interest in enforcing those standards so that the neighborhood looks elegant, hence maintaining property values. If you live in such an association, write to the manager and see whether it will investigate – preferably anonymously, so that you can maintain good relations with your neighbor.
If you do not live in this sort of association, check to see whether your city has any statutory regulations related to fences. The city of Denver, Colorado, for example, restricts residential fences to six feet in height and limits the types of materials that can be used.
Without a local statute or homeowners' association, it’s unlikely that a lawsuit will successfully force your neighbor to replace the ugly fence.