Once you know you want to start a fence project, it can be daunting to figure out how to approach affected neighbors. Regardless of your relationship with your neighbors, putting up or altering a fence has the potential to ruffle some feathers.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to successfully navigate communicating about a fence with those who will be on the other side of it.
Communicate with neighbors about the fence project from the early stages and frequently throughout the project. Being open and kind in the approach to help garner support for the project. Make sure to ask for the neighbor’s input to avoid excluding community members affected by the fence.
1. Start With a Simple Initial Approach
Avoid planning all the details of the project before contacting your neighbors. For a few reasons, this can backfire. First, this could waste a lot of time if you end up changing plans or your neighbor objects to the project.
Second, this could give your neighbor the impression you’re excluding them and don’t value their opinion. If asking for their input is your last step, they could be more likely to behave stubbornly or unreasonably (of course, this depends on your neighbor’s character).
If you have their number or see them normally, send a text or start a discussion indicating that you’re interested in putting up a fence or modifying the current one.
Alternatively, you can leave a brief note in their mailbox explaining your idea and give them your contact info in case they have future questions or comments.
Indicate that you plan to write a letter with more details, such as time frames, cost, materials, etc.
2. Find out Exactly Where the Boundary Lines Are
Normally, the fence will run along the boundary lines of your property. It’s important to know where they are to know where the fence will be placed. In addition, knowing where the property lines are will help distinguish where you can legally set up a fence or hedge, who must remove trees (if necessary), and who must maintain the fence.
If you accidentally build your fence on someone else’s property, you can receive a fine for encroachment or be pulled into a lawsuit with neighbors. You’ll also have to remove your new fence and rebuild it in the correct place, so it pays to do it properly the first time!
You should be able to locate your boundary lines by referencing paperwork from when you purchased the house. This usually takes the form of a survey.
If you can’t locate the necessary paperwork, you can alternatively hire a professional surveyor to redraw a survey of your property. Surveying prices normally run around $500.
Physical markers of the property lines may also exist in the form of wood stakes or iron pins.
Don’t assume your boundary lines based on the placement of neighbors’ fences; they could be incorrect.
3. Investigate the Best Materials
Different fence materials will be “best” depending on your and your neighbors’ needs. To help you choose the material that’s right for you, here’s a pros and cons table for the most common fencing materials:
Cheaper than vinyl
|Prone to rot and insects|
Warps over time
May require refinishing
|Vinyl||Minimal maintenance needed|
|May sag or yellow|
|Metal||Long-lasting||Certain materials will rust|
Wood appearance with plastic durability
|Chain-link||Very affordable||Less visually appealing|
Doesn’t provide much privacy
|Concrete, Brick, Stone||Long-lasting||More expensive|
Require professional installation
Also, when deciding on materials, you should research what is allowed in your neighborhood. There might be local restrictions, or, if you’re in an HOA, you’ll have to abide by their guidelines in order to get approval for your fence.
Carefully assess your options and don’t make any final decisions before approaching your neighbor.
4. Contact Contractors for Cost and Time Estimates
Once you’ve committed to building a fence and have notified your neighbors, reach out to contractors to get quotes on the cost and time of the project. Get estimates for all the materials you may be interested in from step 3.
Don’t make any commitments yet!
Before you continue you’ll need to present the cost and time estimates you gathered to your neighbors.
If you commit too early, the contractor may order materials and decline other jobs in preparation for your project. Then if you make changes after consulting neighbors or changing your own mind, you may incur extra charges.
Once you know for sure what you want and are in agreement with neighbors, you can move ahead to confirming the job with a contractor.
5. Contact Your Neighbor
Remember: It’s Not a Fight Until It Is
It’s easy to imagine that neighbors won’t appreciate you putting up barriers that interrupt the sense of community. Don’t make the assumption that your neighbor will be completely against your fence, though. Perhaps they will actually support the idea if it improves their privacy and security as well.
Always use a friendly tone to approach a neighbor. If you start off the interaction in a confrontational way, they are more likely to respond defensively and be closed-off to your ideas.
If you think your fence needs replacing while your neighbor believes it still has some time left, you may have to delay your project or cover a greater percentage of the cost of your project.
All Communications Should Be Recorded
Whether over text or by mail, communications between you and your neighbors about the fence should be recorded to keep proof of support for or complaints against the project. This can protect both parties in the case that disputes arise or there are legal or property issues.
Keeping a paper trail of communication can keep everyone accountable for their role in the fence project. Print and file any digital communication and mark the dates you sent or received communication.
I have a sample letter you can use as a base. Scroll down to find the PDF.
Be Upfront About the Reason
There are many possible motivations for installing a fence. Usually, they serve to improve security and/or privacy. They’re also often installed if you’re getting a dog or want your current pet to be able to spend time outside unsupervised.
Don’t hide the reason for the fence from your neighbor, this project affects them as well so they deserve to know the details. The reason you’re building a fence may also influence which fence materials you agree to.
Make sure to discuss how they may benefit from the fence as well. For example, if your dog likes to dig holes and your neighbor has a garden, the fence will serve to protect their plants.
Address the Money
Since this is your project, you shouldn’t count on other people supplying money for it; at the same time, you shouldn’t start by saying you’ll pay for the whole project, especially if it’s something that will benefit them as well.
Because both parties will likely contribute to the maintenance of the fence, it may make sense for both parties to pay for the initial cost, although asking them to contribute needs to be done tactfully. This may also be an opportunity for your neighbor to get or replace their own fence as well and have everything installed together.
Local building codes will dictate how close to the property line a fence can be. Typically if the fence runs along the property line, splitting the bill evenly makes the most sense.
If one neighbor requests more work than the other (i.e. a more expensive material or higher fence than is standard to address their needs or preferences), they should contribute more to the cost of the work.
Do You Have More Than One Neighbor?
If your fence will be impacting more than one neighbor, you will have to include everyone in your project communications. Above all, reach out to any person who shares a property boundary with you.
As an extra measure, you may want to inform or consult neighbors who will see the fence (for example those living across the street), as well as any neighborhood associations.
The appearance of your fence may impact property values and is therefore relevant to homeowners living in the larger area around you. However, as long as your fence meets local code, you aren’t required to introduce your project to them.
6. You Are Managing the Project: Update Your Neighbor
Consistent communication with your neighbor about how the project is progressing will help keep the relationship amicable. It’s your responsibility to be proactive about addressing questions or concerns that might come up about the project.
Keep your neighbor in the loop about delays and increased costs. It will also be useful to warn your neighbor at what hours to expect loud construction noise and workers possibly stepping on their property to work on the fence.
Although it’s good to keep your neighbor updated, be careful not to harass them with every little detail about the fence. Only share pertinent information that affects them.
7. Put a Maintenance Plan in Place
The fence will of course require maintenance in the future. Who finances this maintenance should be discussed as soon as possible with neighbors.
All neighbors need to agree to the maintenance plan put forth at the start when the fence is built. Make sure to get this plan in writing for future records. You will have to keep in contact with your neighbors about fence maintenance years after you’ve completed your project.
Keeping the fence in good repair benefits everyone by maintaining a good neighborhood appearance and property values.
Each situation will be different for deciding how to split costs. For example, you might pay more for the original project, then split maintenance costs halfway with your neighbor.
Sample of the Official Letter
So, you’ve signaled to your neighbor that you’re starting a fence project. Now it’s time to share the project details so that they’ll understand what to expect and have the opportunity to provide input.
The essential information for your letter is:
- Your name and contact details.
- Your reason for wanting to put up the fence.
- What the fence will be made out of.
- Fence dimensions and location.
- Plans for removing and discarding of old fence if necessary (although, I have a whole article dedicated to Approaching Your Neighbor About Replacing a Fence).
Address as many aspects of the project as possible. Make sure to include any relevant supplementary documents, such as contractor quotes, blueprints, land surveys, etc. Unless you’re very familiar with this neighbor, keep the communications relatively formal, or rather, official.
Here is a sample letter that you can use to format the communication of your project to your neighbor:
1234 Your Street
Your Phone Number
Dear (NEIGHBOR’S NAME),
I’m writing to update you on my project regarding (REPLACING/BUILDING/EXTENDING) the fence.
As you know, I’m interested in this project because ______.
The new fence will be made of __________ material. The proposed dimensions are _____ feet tall, _____ feet long, and _______ (feet/inches) from (MY HOME/THE PROPERTY LINE).
(Add any additional information about the fence, such as color, style, etc., here).
Construction will be performed in accordance with _______ (local code here).
In regards to the old fence, ______ (removal and disposal plans).
Attached are _____ (quotes, plans, etc.) from ______ (contractor) for your review.
I wish to start this project (mm-dd-yyyy), please send your input or confirmation of your approval before this time.
(YOUR NAME/ SIGNATURE)
Provide additional materials here (quotes, plans, etc.).
Here you can find a printable PDF of the sample letter.