Fencing disputes between neighbors are prevalently money-related. At face value, it only makes sense for the two landowners to split the cost of building and maintaining a shared fence since it is beneficial to both their properties. However, there are so many factors that come to play when dealing with shared fences. A major factor being the unique financial status of every homeowner.
Here is a guide to help you if your neighbor has approached you to split the cost of building a new fence and you cannot afford the expenses that the project would incur.
Neighbors don’t have to split fence costs, especially if one neighbor can’t afford it. Being unable to contribute money should be made clear. But don’t be defensive. Another type of contribution may be possible, like labor or maintenance. The monetary onus of privacy fences belongs to the property owner alone.
Do You Have to Contribute to the Fence?
Your responsibility for a fence depends on the type of fence that’s in place. Property or privacy fences are built within the boundaries of a property. In this case, the owner of the fence, i.e., the person on whose land the fence is built is solely responsible for building and maintaining the fence. An exception will be if affected homeowners come to an agreement that proves mutually beneficial for both parties.
On the other hand, partition or dividing fences are built on the boundary line of two properties. In this case, both owners are equally responsible for the fence. Different states have their unique fencing laws. For instance, in California, whenever, a landowner intends to make changes that would incur financial contributions of adjoining landowners, the state demands that a detailed notice be given to all parties involved at least 30 days prior.
However, the general practice is for the individual implementing the change to take full responsibility for building the fence. Although they can request support from adjoining landowners, you aren’t obligated to finance the project if you cannot afford to do so at the moment.
Unless the current fence is in terrible condition, they cannot force you to commit to a project you’re not ready for. Thus, if they decide to go to mediation, they wouldn’t have a valid case against you.
Benefits of Contributing
Although contributing might be a financial strain, it comes with a few benefits as well.
If you leave the entire proceedings to your neighbor, they would be responsible for choosing the construction dates and time frame. Even if they consult you, the final decision would still rest with them. However, if you have a stake in the project, you both can choose dates that are convenient for everyone.
Size and Design of the Fence
Unless you live in a neighborhood with established rules regarding fence installation (like an HOA, which would have to approve the fence), you wouldn’t have a say on the type of fence your neighbor erects. Also, your neighbor could decide to erect a fence that contradicts the other fences surrounding your property. If you’re particular about uniformity or aesthetics, then the disparity might be an issue.
Quality of Work
Leaving the specifics of the project to your neighbor means that you let them decide the material of the fence as well as choose the contractor. This might work out well but should your neighbor erect a fence that you consider inferior or if the contractor they employed does a poor job, you would be unable to do anything about it unless you want to pull it down and erect another fence at your sole cost.
Responding to Your Neighbor’s Approach
It’s always wise to avoid conflicts with your neighbors. Thus, even if you have no intention of financially committing to the project, it’s best if you don’t come across as a rude snob.
Be Honest and Avoid Being Defensive
You’d have to be forthright with them from the onset. You shouldn’t start off saying that you will cover part of the expenses and then change your mind after you have come to an agreement.
The best approach is to outrightly inform them that you cannot cover the financial cost of building a new fence at that moment. If you need time to think about it, you can tell them to get back to you, or you both can fix another meeting where you would tell them what you can contribute to the project.
How your neighbor receives your reply would depend on their personality and your relationship with them. Another factor that could affect their response would be your attitude to their approach. If you come across as defensive, it’d make you seem as though you feel offended by their approach. Unfortunately, studies show that defensive behavior elicits a similar response from the other party.
You Don’t Have to Divulge Financial Details
To gain understanding from your neighbor, you might be tempted to divulge your personal financial information. However, you aren’t obligated to do so.
This doesn’t however mean that you give them an abrupt response. You don’t have to tell them that you’re behind on your mortgage or that a bulk of your income has gone into paying your children’s tuition, and you are merely getting by. Instead, you could tell them that you have a lot of financial responsibility at the moment, and adding the cost of building the fence would be too much for you.
The fact that your neighbor is ready to erect a fence doesn’t mean that you must be at that place financially as well. If a landowner decides to build a fence, it is generally believed that he/she should also be able to bear the entire financial burden of the project. So, you shouldn’t feel guilty for not having the financial means to contribute to the project.
Can You Pay a Portion or Help With Labor?
Should you decide to pay a portion of the building expenses, you can work out a payment plan together. At this point, you must have had a conversation with them and informed them that you wouldn’t be able to cover half of the building cost like they expect you to.
Although most state laws demand that both adjoining owners share equal responsibility for the fence, you don’t have to split the bill 50-50 if you cannot afford it. Instead, you should agree on a percentage that you’re sure you can cover. For instance, you could split the bill 70% to 30%, 60% to 40%, or even 80% to 20%.
Alternatively, you can cover all or part of the labor cost. If you’ve got the required skill, you can even offer to build the fence.
You can also offer to buy some of the building materials. This way, you show your commitment to the project without causing yourself much financial strain.
Can You Assist With Maintenance?
Fence expenses do not end after they are built. Some fences demand more maintenance than others. The cost and effort required to maintain the fence would depend on the material used to build the proposed fence.
If the fence is made from materials like steel, wrought iron, or composite, you might not have to do much. However, if it is constructed with materials like wood or vinyl, then the maintenance of the fence would be more demanding.
If you decide to take responsibility for maintaining the fence, you can formalize the arrangement by putting it into writing. In the agreement, you should answer the following questions:
- How long would you be covering maintenance?
- How often should maintenance be carried out?
- Are you taking sole responsibility for maintaining the fence during this period, or would they have to help in some areas?
- Are you going to be responsible for repairs as well?
Before you make this commitment you need to be certain that you can manage this responsibility.
Don’t Let Them Bully You
Although you might feel guilty for not contributing to a project that would be beneficial to you, you still shouldn’t let your neighbor disrespect you. More so if you have a decent fence in place and your neighbor merely wants to make an upgrade.
If you cannot contribute to the project, let them know and if they insist on going on with construction, inform them that it would have to be without any financial help from your end.
Don’t allow them to make you feel bad for your decision. The fact that one homeowner is financially able to shoulder the cost of a new fence doesn’t mean other people would have disposable income to spare as well.
If they get confrontational, stay out of their way and try not to exchange words with them.
If they keep making trouble even after you’ve told them that you cannot cover the cost of the fence at the moment, then you could inform them that they’d have to shift their fence building plans until you can afford to pay your share of the expenses.
However, you should only be this understanding if the fence in question is a partition fence. If it is a privacy fence, you should outrightly inform them that they’re solely responsible for the fence and you wouldn’t be making any financial contribution to the project.
One final note would be to make sure that the fence they put up is definitely on the property line. You don’t want to have to approach them about moving the fence later on because it’s encroaching on your property. They could also end up owning whatever portion of your property they enclose with their fence!