My neighbor's new fence is on his property, but blocks access to my trash cans. Is this legal?

Most courts will not allow a neighbor to install a fence on what is essentially a shared boundary, particularly if it interferes with your use and enjoyment of your property -- but is a lawsuit the right approach?

Question

My neighbor just installed an expensive white picket fence. It looks lovely, and improves the overall aesthetics of the neighborhood. But the positioning of the fence, and the close proximity of our two properties, mean I can no longer bring my trash and recycling bins to the curb. What should I do?

Answer

Although courts in different jurisdictions treat these types of fence situations slightly differently, most courts will not allow a neighbor to install a fence on what is essentially a shared boundary, particularly if it interferes with your own use and enjoyment of your property. This is especially true if you can show that your neighbor did this in bad faith or with malicious intent – although here, it sounds like an innocent mistake.

Fences that serve no purpose other than to harass or annoy a neighbor are sometimes called spite fences. Here, your neighbor did not built an aesthetically spiteful fence, but rather one that interferes with your use and enjoyment of your property, even though the fence is technically on his property. Fences that are on a neighbor’s property can sometimes block a driveway, inhibit ingress and egress, or in your case, block access to trash receptacles.

In a situation like this, your first step should be a respectful conversation with your neighbor. Knock on his door, congratulate him on the beautiful new fence, and then explain your concern. See how he responds.

He might be willing to simply move or rearrange the small bit of his fence that blocks access. He might, at the very least, be willing to explore the situation with his contractor who installed the fence. Perhaps there’s a cost associated with the creative redesign; consider splitting that cost with your neighbor.

Remember, different jurisdictions might treat the legality of borders differently, and the cost of hiring a lawyer to litigate the issue would quickly exceed the fees of a contractor. If your neighbor is unwilling to talk, it might be time to retain a lawyer, at least for the limited purpose of writing a strong demand letter to your neighbor to show that you’re serious.

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