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All Things Real Estate: How do I get neighbors to pay their share of fence repair?



Tim Jones: All Things Real Estate

Q: I always read your column in the Daily Republic and now I have a question. My side fence blew over two weeks ago and one part, which I share with my backyard neighbor, is only holding up because I supported it with pieces of wood from my side. I tried to contact both neighbors several times and left them the estimates to repair the fence. When I go to their doors, all they do is ignore me because they are trying to avoid the cost.

My question to you is whether or not there is a common obligation in Suisun City for neighbors to share the cost of replacement of a fence. The fence is original to the houses are 25 years old.

A: Generally, the simple answer is “yes,” there is an obligation for neighbors to pay their share of fence repairs or replacement.

This is a subject that comes up in this column a couple of times each year, usually in the spring and early winter months when wind and wet soils combine to break already rotting fence posts.

California passed a law in 2013 to try to avoid the court fights over the repair and replacement of fences. Though I’m not entirely sure it fully served that purpose, the law gives a lot of clarity as to who would win that court fight.

California Civil Code 841, also known as the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013, requires that, “adjoining landowners shall share equally in the responsibility for maintaining the boundaries and monuments between them.”

Most fences within the boundaries of a city, like the fence you are describing, are termed, “good neighbor fences.” The idea is that the fence benefits not only your land, but also that of your neighbors.

The assumptions are different in the country where people build fences for particular purposes, such as containing livestock. There, the fences belong to, and are built for the benefit of, one landowner only.

In your case, your neighbors must contribute their share of the costs.

The question is, how do you get them to pay up?

The simplest method is to give each of the neighbors a written notice of your intent to rebuild the fence, an explanation of the anticipated cost and a nicely written demand that they pay for their share.

If, after a reasonable time, they don’t volunteer to pay their share, you can hire someone to rebuild the fence and send copies of the bill to the neighbors with another demand that they pay.

Finally, if they continue to ignore you, simply go down to the courthouse and find the small claims clerk. There you can handwrite a complaint, pay a small fee and take the non-paying neighbors to court.

Be prepared to present not only the bill, but copies of the letters you sent to the neighbors as well.

The judge will give you a judgment.

If you are unable to afford to pay someone to rebuild the fence, you can get estimates from several companies and take those to court with you.

However, it is more difficult for a judge to determine exactly how much to give you since the bid prices are probably not firm and the court won’t know exactly how much the final bill will be.

Consequently, it is far better to simply have completed the fence replacement prior to asking a judge for a judgment against the neighbors.

One more thought on the same subject.

If the fence blew down, as opposed to simply falling down on its own, it would be a catastrophic event that might be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy. You should consider making a claim. On the other hand, if the cost is relatively small, you may want to simply repair the fence rather than make a claim and risk the increased insurance costs.

Also, you should know that even if the insurance company will accept coverage, they will only pay your share of the costs. You may still be stuck with going after your neighbors for their share.

Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any real estate questions you would like to have answered in this column you can send an email to AllThingsRealEstate@TJones-Law.com.

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