16

I recently moved into an older home with fences between my home and my neighbor's home. Based the way the fences are constructed, I believe that they are owned by the neighbors and not myself. One of the fences is in bad shape - it is rotted and ready to fall down in a year or two, and the part of the fence facing the street and not my house has completely fallen over and is resting on the neighbor's lawn.

I would like to get this fence replaced. However, I am not sure how to approach the neighbor because I have never communicated with this neighbor before and I am not generally comfortable with cold introductions. Further, based on the state of the fence and yard in general the neighbor either does not care much about the outside of their house or does not have much money to spend on upkeep (but I do not actually know either of these to be fact).

Since I have no prior contact with the neighbor and am unsure about their commitment to a good fence or financial ability to contribute to its upkeep, I am not sure how to go about asking about getting it replaced. My proposed options are:

  • (Introduce myself) "It looks like our shared fence is going to fall over in a year or so. Would you be interested in splitting the costs of replacing the fence?"
  • (Introduce myself) "It looks like our shared fence is going to fall over in a year or so. Would it be OK if I have it replaced?" (I would be comfortable covering the costs of replacing the entire fence myself.)

My concern with the first approach is that I am essentially putting the neighbor on the spot asking for money, and possibly making them feel bad if they do not want to replace the fence. My concern with the second approach is that it may come across as acting superior if I suggest to pay for the fence myself. Which way is most likely to result in a) not offending the neighbor and b) a new fence?

  • "I believe that they are owned by the neighbors". This seems to be an important point as to responsibility. I would find out by checking property maps (or equivalent in your jurisdiction) to find out for sure. Only on the property line would it be considered joint responsibility (a shared fence). If the fence is on the neighbor's property, you have no right to do anything, other than put up another fence on your property. – user3169 Aug 31 '17 at 6:52
  • @user3169 Would you recommend asking if they know who actually owns the fence? – SethMMorton Aug 31 '17 at 6:53
  • That may not be reliable. I would go to the county offices that handle your property taxes, county clerk or such to get maps or blueprints of your property, if you don't have them already (normally they are in your paperwork when you buy a property). That is the legal determination. – user3169 Aug 31 '17 at 6:59
  • 1
    Even with county maps, unless you are a trainer surveyor (or willing to hire one which will probably cost more than the fence) it's unlikely you can be sure where the legal property line lays. Most property lines would surprise the owners of both lots. – ench Sep 7 '17 at 20:57
13

You need to be able to talk about this sort of thing with the neighbours. To that end, you need to meet the neighbours. That means the neighbours on both sides (if you have them).

A good way to introduce yourself is to invite them over for tea and cake. (Or coffee and cake, seeing as you're in the US not the UK). I'd suggest ring their doorbell and say:

"Hi, I'm Seth and I've recently moved in next door. I'd like to meet the neighbours, so I'm doing tea and cake tomorrow about 4pm if you're free?".

You will need to judge whether to bring up the fence issue when they're over having tea and cake, or whether to do it another time (which could be over tea and cake again, or when you bump into them on the driveway). I'd suggest wording along the lines of

"Oh, {neighbour's name}, I was hoping to talk about the fence. I'm not sure whose responsibility its upkeep is, but I was thinking about replacing it, if that's ok with you?"

There are a few key points in this:

  • Denying knowledge of who's responsible for the fence. This means you're not immediately putting them on the backfoot by saying "the fence is your responsibility" and implying that they've not done what they should have
  • Saying you were thinking of replacing it, and therefore not suggesting you're expecting any financial contribution from them. This works seeing as you said you were happy to pay for all of it. And again it attempts not to put them on the backfoot, by making it clear you're not asking them for money.
  • 8
    "Oh, while I've got you here..." would tick me off. Not everybody would be like this, but to me, it'd be obvious that's why you invited me over and that you didn't actually care to see me, and in that case I'd rather be asked directly. Maybe hang out a few times before you ask (yes, this might take a few months). – Mehrdad Sep 1 '17 at 7:33
  • 2
    @Mehrdad - Good point. I guess it would depend on how the conversation over cake would go as to whether it would be ok to broach the subject on the first meeting or not. Edited to reflect that. – AndyT Sep 1 '17 at 9:38
  • 4
    Better :) I also just realized there's another possibility if waiting a few weeks/months isn't an option: inviting them over and being up-front that you wanted to ask them something: "Hi, I'm Seth and I've recently moved in next door. I just came by to invite you over to our place for tea & cake tomorrow and discuss some potential remodeling we'd been wondering about that would need your permission. Would you be free at 4pm?" or something like that. – Mehrdad Sep 1 '17 at 10:53
  • 2
    we did none of this when it happened to us. we were willing to pay for the whole thing also, but we simply stopped by their house when we saw them out, mentioned it to them, and they each said they'd pitch in if we sent them a copy of the estimate. and they did; if they hadn't, I still would be no less off and now they at least know I'm an ok person. I don't need to have tea with these people; we're adults and can deal with the fence without being good buddies. – simpleuser Sep 7 '17 at 18:58
  • 2
    The tea & cake thing is very much going to be regional. I wouldn't be insulted, but that would be incredibly awkward for most neighbors I've had (Seattle-ish). A simple and direct approach (#2) has the fewest pitfalls in my mind. – ench Sep 7 '17 at 21:00
10

Introduce yourself first

Since you said you have no prior contact, I assume you have not yet introduced yourself to them. Things will be less awkward if you introduce yourself before asking them.

Your phrases are good to go:

"I plan on repairing the other fence soon and was thinking this is a good opportunity to replace our shared fence. Would it be OK if I have it replaced?"

And your willingness to cover the entire cost is a good bumper if ever you notice a hesitation when they are answering. I recommend not to mention this up front, but save this to assure them when they hesitate.

One other way to prevent looking superior is to offer to work on the fence together on weekend, if you have planned to do so.

In my experience on repairing a shared brick fence, stating that you are ready to do the repair will be less likely to be rejected.

When I expect the neighbor to share some burden, I always start with my purpose first, and mentioning there's missing material I need to borrow from them. In your case it might go like this:

Hi, I'm planning to repair the fence tomorrow, but it seems I forgot to buy nails/my hammer is missing. Can I borrow some/yours?

4

Traditionally (at least in the US) a fence is sort of jointly owned and maintained by both parties it divides. Legally, more likely it is owned by the party upon whose land it physically sits. But it is traditional for neighbors on good terms to share the costs of fence maintenance.

But of course your neighbors may not realize any of this, or care. However, if they are the type who don't like to do outside maintenance of their property (for whatever reason. Time, money, etc.) then its likely they'd be delighted if you showed up offering to do it for them on your own dime.

Generally, I'd suggest being as nice as possible, and backing straight off if they have an issue with it. I'd much rather have a dilapidated fence on one side of my property than a human being who has a beef with me. You gotta sleep sometime.

  • 1
    In about two-thirds of U.S. states, there are laws that support the tradition "for neighbors on good terms to share the cost of fence maintenance." – Jasper Jan 22 '18 at 6:03
  • Most of the US does have laws about this specifying that neighbors are equally responsible for the costs, especially if the fence is on the lot line rather than slightly to one side. Search for "boundary fence" or "party fence", i.e. here or here. – brichins Feb 1 '18 at 19:21
3

AndyT's answer is great when you have time (weeks/months) to spare for getting to know them before the fence needs to be replaced, and I honestly suggest taking the time instead of immediately jumping to discuss something that needs their approval. However, if you can't, inviting them over and being up-front about the fact that you wanted to ask them something might work too.

The wording is a little harder here, since you neither want to get straight into the discussion and get a response (thus removing their interest in coming over), nor do you want to get them excited about meeting you only to immediately crush it by saying it's because you need something from them.

Something like this might work (though it probably sounds more natural in writing than in speech, so you might want to tweak it and practice saying it so it doesn't sound awkward):

Hi, I'm Seth and I've recently moved in next door. I just came by to invite you over to our place for tea & cake tomorrow and discuss some potential remodeling we'd been wondering about that would need your permission. Would you be free at 4pm?

Oh, and of course, if things go fine, do continue to socialize with them. Don't just forget about them!

2

I think the correct approach is to see if the neighbour will split the cost, and if you are really desperate, you can offer to pay in full.

You will almost certainly get nowhere if you ask the neighbour to pay for the fence in full, even if it their responsibility. If they were concerned about the fence they would have already repaired it.

I don't think this is a difficult conversation to initiate with a neighbour. I'd literally knock on the door and suggest it, no need for cakes and other feigned bonhomie.

However, a word of caution. We did a similar thing with our neighbour. She agreed to split it 50-50. Then when it was time for her to pay her share, she wrote a bouncy cheque! Took a while to get the money out of her in the end, all very embarrassing and not a very positive experience.

Sorry to be an old cynic, but (coming from a UK perspective), be wary of having any expectations about your neighbours' interest in maintaining their own property, or in minimising the impact on you.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.