Dear PoPville – Should Neighbors Share the Expense of Repairing a Fence?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Hopadidl

“Dear PoPville,

My community shares a large fence with our immediate neighbor, a private school. Both parties use the fence in a manner that suits their purposes. Recently, a portion of the fence fell down and needs to be replaced. My community has taken the initiative to repair the fence and now seeks money from the school to put towards the project as the school will benefit equally in its repair. Does DC have any laws on the books regarding repairing a shared fence?”

25 Comment

  • Which property does the fence technically fall on? That’s the answer to your question.

  • What did the school say when you sat down and talked with them about repairs to the fence?

  • As a rule of thumb, undertaking an expense you expect to share with someone else without having an agreement with that other party is a very bad idea.

  • I highly doubt there are laws on it because I highly doubt there is a such thing as “shared fence” in the legal sense, but maybe I am wrong.
    Also, what does “my community” mean? Is that code for “cult” or something?

    • gotryit

      I think by “shared fence” that they’re talking about a fence that is right on the property line. It can be a good thing if both owners are responsible about it, but otherwise it just falls apart.
      At my last house, I didn’t even bother trying to get financial support for the new fence – I just payed for / built it with the neighbor’s permission.

      • Original poster here. Thanks in advance for comments, or discussion of your past similar experiences. By way of background – The “shared fence” is a “party fence” that lies partly on each side of the party line. The “community” is the homeowner’s association. We are in discussions with the school to share expenses for the fence. It would certainly be ideal to share expenses for the repair as both parties benefit from it and I’m sure it would help our efforts if there was some type of regulation regarding the matter. I know some states have laws that cover these types of issues, but I haven’t been able to find anything on the books in DC yet. Anyway, thanks all.

        • Thanks for the info and I stand corrected – as several folks pointed out apparently there is a such thing as a “party fence”. And didn’t mean to start rumors about you being in a cult, I just thought the “my community” phrasing was suspiciously vague. 😀

  • houseintherear

    I actually know the answer to something, for once! Both parties must agree before any repairs or replacements are made if the cost is to be shared. This is a part of DC law, from what I remember of my research on the subject when I bought my house a few years ago. Using my personal example… the fence between my property and my neighbor’s property is not pretty, and they want to replace it. I’m a fairly broke single person and that is not on my priority list of things to fix at my house, so I did not agree to pay for the replacement. Since they wanted the replacement, they went ahead and did it and paid for it on their own. If the fence had been broken (since it is exactly on our property line and does not sit on either side), they could have brought me to court* and a judge would likely have ordered both parties to pay half each. Since they wanted the replacement for purely aesthetic reasons, they would not have been able to involve the courts.
    *this is not a lawsuit, but it has some special name in the court system here dealing with properties… can’t remember.

    • houseintherear

      Oh, and they did have to get my permission before replacing the fence on their own (again, because it was not broken in any way).

    • houseintherear

      … but if it were broken they could have replaced it or fixed it and paid for it themselves without my permission, as is the law here.

      sorry for all the comments.

      • gotryit

        I’m pretty sure that to get a permit to work on a fence that is on the property line, you need to get the neighbor’s permission. There’s a form (or spot for it on the permit application) for that.

    • I’m curious. Do you know what would have happened if the fence had been broken, so it had to be replaced, but your neighbors wanted an expensive, aesthetically pleasing fence, but you wanted to either replace the fence with something similar to the original fence, or go for an even cheaper option?

      • gotryit

        You cut a baby in half. I guess I shouldn’t quit my job to become a lawyer.
        Realistically, most fences in DC are pretty short lengths, so if you really want it then you pay for it. Otherwise, it’s too much hassle.

  • It’s a school – why not view the expense paid by your association as philanthropy?

    • ah, but a private school. makes a difference when you’re talking philanthropy 🙂

      • I like this idea. It certainly has possibilities in the event its the best we can do to offset costs. It’s a private school, but I’m sure it’s designated as a non-profit. And if the school is reluctant to pay, I bet they’d be more up for providing a charitable donation receipt. I’ll have to look into the ability of an HOA to take charitable deductions.

      • Maybe, but a mistake that a lot of people make is thinking that private schools are all wealthy. Many are just barely making it. While the people who send their children there are often pretty loaded (though less than you might think in some cases), these schools themselves often aren’t.

  • most fences are shared unless you have corner lot. BUT–usually the house who put it up in the first place is who repairs and maintains it. the “ugly” side is usually the owners side, unless it is board on board.

  • Similar question! We have an interior row house but, midway through, our house cuts away from our neighbors, creating a little breezeway. This means we have windows on the side of the house, but they all face a brick wall about 3 feet away. We’ve been told that the brick wall is technically a party wall and we can therefore paint our side of it without our neighbors permission. My question is- can we attach to the wall? Do our neighbors have to be on board with it? We’re thinking about attaching a green/vertically planted wall. Anyone have experience with this situation?

    • If I’m envisioning this correctly, the center line in the gap is the property line and the exterior brick wall on that portion of your neighbor’s house is entirely on his or her property. I don’t think that it’s a party wall in that case.

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