Although fences are often built to divide property lines, disputes may arise over who owns the fence itself. When this happens, the best thing to do is resolve it immediately. Since homeowners want to feel at peace in their residences, they do not want to quarrel with the people living next door. There are several important steps to take.
1. Order a survey. If the property is relatively new, there may be a survey on file with the county. However, many older properties do not have surveys on file. If this is the case, contact a licensed surveyor to have the process done. Since these surveys may cost thousands of dollars, it is important to ask about prices. Be sure to call a few different surveyors to compare estimates.
2. Outline the property. When the surveyor completes his or her task, steel pins will be placed at the corners of the property. Use string or a laser pointer to line up the pins. By doing this, it will be easier to see exactly where the property lines run and which side the fence lies on.
3. Determine who owns the fence. In many cases, the fence lies within a clear boundary on one side of the steel pins. However, it may not lie on either side. If this happens, it is called a border fence or division. Property owners facing this issue should consult the next three steps.
4. Determine ownership by occupancy. When fences are placed between or on the property line, the property owner using the land directly up to the fence is considered the rightful owner. For example, a person who mows the lawn and has a garden up against the fence would receive favor over a neighbor who allows weeds to grow on his or her side of the structure.
5. Look at ownership of adjoining structures. If it is not possible to determine ownership by occupancy, look at the other fences or buildings attached to the controversial fence. If the structure is attached to a home or structure on a particular property, it belongs to the owner of that parcel of land.
6. Determine ownership by enclosure. When the previous two methods fail, examine the fence to see if the properties are enclosed by it. If it creates a full enclosure around one property but not the other, the person with the complete enclosure owns it.
If all of these options fail, it is best to speak with an attorney. Fence ownership issues often come up when one party wants to install a new fence or when a fence is so dilapidated that it must be replaced.