How Do I Make My Neighbor Pay for Damage Caused to My Fence?

Understanding your legal rights when a neighbor damages a boundary line fence, and what to do next.

Fence issues are a common source of strife between next-door neighbor. Let's say, for example, that you and your neighbor share a common backyard chain link fence. You paid for it more than ten years ago, before he moved in. He repeatedly places wet rugs, towels, and so forth across the top rail of the fence. It is beginning to rust in those areas.

The neighbor is uncooperative. That leaves you trying to figure out what's next. May you remove and discard the rugs—or at least cut away and discard the portion hanging in your yard? And how about getting your neighbor to pay for the damage, perhaps by suing in small claims court?

We'll offer practical and legal suggestions here.

Don't Harm Neighbor's Property

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

Who's Responsible for Maintaining a Common Fence

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 is single-handedly 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 a conversation doesn't do the trick, write a demand letter, enclosing copies of your receipts (if you've already bought materials). Even if it doesn't produce results, it's a nice way of setting forth the facts and creating evidence that might be valuable in small claims court, if you go that route.

Consider Mediation or Small Claims Court

If your neighbor continues to be unresponsive after your personal interactions, 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 articles on Mediation, Arbitration & Collaborative Law and Small Claims Court. For in-depth explanations of fences and boundary lines, check out Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise.

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