For anyone who’s owned a home for a while, knows that fences that separate two privately owned properties are the mutual consternation of both owners. The law looks on it as the “mutual responsibility”, but let’s face it. It rarely works out that way. The stories of disagreements abound in all shapes and forms.
I remember distinctly my own story. I had very small children who played safely in my fenced backyard until one day. As I was about to let my kids go out to play, I happened to look out and notice a view I hadn’t seen before. After a double take, I realized that I was looking directly into my neighbor’s backyard and a clear run right into her built-in swimming pool. It turns out that she had taken out a shed on her side and the fence came down with it. All of a sudden, my backyard wasn’t a safe place for my kids to play. So I went knocking on my neighbor’s door and asked when she would be repairing the fence to which she replied that “Of course, we were “good neighbors” and we should split the cost.” Hmmm. She wrecks the fence and I’m suppose to help her rebuild it?
Fast forward to 2013, California Assembly Bill No. 1404 is passed. Otherwise known as the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013. I get it. Some of you are going to be up in arms about the fact that the government is getting involved in your fencing disputes and I’ll admit, there are parts of this bill that make me squirm. But at the end of the day, there is something to the fact that if you want to share the cost there’s now a process by which you can get your neighbor to reimburse you.
Highlights of the bill are:
- The party who wants to seek reimbursement or shared cost of repair must give 30 days’ written notice to each adjoining landowner.
- You also must include a description of the problem with the fence.
- Your proposal for addressing the problem.
- The estimated costs for fixing the problem.
- Your proposal for how to split the costs.
- Your proposal for the timeline for getting the problem fixed.
Exceptions to cost sharing laid out by the bill are all about cost (not about blame):
- If the financial burden is substantially disproportionate to the benefit of one party over another.
- If the cost of the fence would exceed the value of the properties (over-built).
- If the cost would cause a financial hardship to one party.
- Reasonableness: costs can’t be excessive or unnecessary or the project is for one landowner’s “personal aesthetic, architectural, or other preference”, or “other equitable factors”.
In my story, I might be arguing that we shouldn’t be sharing the cost due to the destruction being entirely and inequitably caused by the other party. I’m not sure how far that would have gone. In my case, I got her to repair the fence on her dollar pre-2013 law by simply citing to the county that her pool wasn’t fenced.
I’m sure you’ll have your own stories.
Happy Good Friday!