How to Avoid Disputes with Neighbors on Fence Installation
Unless you live on a multi-acre lot, you have nearby neighbors. In Chicago and its many surrounding suburbs, most neighborhoods are dense, with neighboring homes on two or three sides of your home. The codes and regulations listed on the individual city pages of this website exist primarily to keep fences in those cities attractive and safe. They also are written to create a certain degree of uniformity in the appearance of neighborhoods. In many subdivisions, covenants and restrictions in HOA contracts are even more restrictive in the kinds of fences that can be built. There are excellent reasons for all of those rules and codes.
Fences are some of the most common sources of disputes between neighbors throughout the country. Every year, these disputes lead to lawsuits and arguments that can last for years. If you’re planning to add a fence to your property, it’s important to keep this in mind. There’s an old saying that says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That’s true, but it could also be written as “Good neighbors build good fences.” Here are some ways to help ensure that the project you’re planning will help build good relationships with the people who own homes next to yours.
Open a Discussion with Neighbors Early in Fence Planning
As soon as you begin thinking about installing a fence, discuss your plans with the neighbors on both sides and behind your property. Tell them what materials and designs you’re considering and ask for their thoughts about your ideas. If you’ve chosen your design based on other fences in the neighborhood, they’ll probably not have any objections, but listen to their concerns and try to find compromises that relieve their worries. You have a perfect right to build a fence, as long as you follow the codes and rules in your city, but minor concessions often prevent disputes. If a neighbor is renting the home, contact the owner of the property as well. Don’t take any chances.
Neighbors Often Share Costs for Fences Between Properties
In your discussions, you may discover that your neighbor has also been thinking about adding a fence, especially in newer neighborhoods. In many cases, neighbors agree to share some of the costs for the part of the fence that is near the property line between the two homes. Even though your project will be built entirely on your property, it’s still possible that the owner next door will be interested in helping with the cost if the fence also benefits the neighbor. These agreements are very common and can reduce your total cost, so don’t ignore this possibility.
Assure Your Neighbors that the “Good Side” Will Face Them
Every city in the Chicago area requires that you build your fence with the posts and other visible structures on your side of the fence. Point that out to neighbors and you may find their resistance disappears. You could also build a fence that has a finished appearance on both sides. Assure neighbors, too, that the fence you’re building will be completely on your property. That’s also required by your city’s codes and rules. Even if you share costs, don’t be tempted to build on the actual property line. The next owner might object to that, and demand that the fence be moved. Remember that even the concrete footings for posts must be completely on your property.
Get Permission from Neighbors to Come on Their Property During Construction
Any fence built near a property line will require access to the neighboring property by people working on the fence. This can lead to disputes and concerns about damage. If you cannot get this permission, you may have to locate your fence further inside your own property to avoid trespassing. Assure your neighbors that you’ll repair any damage to landscaping or features on their property and follow through on that promise. If you’re hiring a contractor to install your fence, you’ll have to assure them that you have the neighbor’s permission before they’ll start work.
Locate and Mark Property Lines before Starting Any Work
While you may think you know where your property lines are, you could be mistaken. Even in carefully planned developments, those lines may not be where you think they are. If there is any question at all, hire a surveyor to locate and mark your property lines. It’s a minor expense, but mistakes can lead to disputes. You could even have to remove or move your new fence. Your city’s building and zoning departments will not locate property lines for you. It’s your responsibility.
Avoid Disturbing or Annoying Neighbors During Construction
Schedule all work on your project at times that won’t interfere with your neighbor’s sleep or other reasonable needs. A few cities actually have time limits for construction work. Like all building jobs, fence work can be noisy. If workers wake up neighbors or disturb their lives too much, it could create real problems that can interfere with the work and delay completion of the project. Work with your contractor to make sure work schedules make sense and that employees will work as quietly as possible and avoid shouting or using foul language.
If All Efforts Fail, You Still Have a Right to Build Your Fence
It’s not always possible to come to an agreement with every neighbor. Unfortunately, you could encounter a situation where a neighboring property owner refuses to cooperate with you and continues to object to your plans. If that happens, you can still build your fence. However, you’ll have to follow the city codes to the letter and be absolutely certain that you don’t encroach on that neighbor’s property. In the worst case, you might have to move the fence to make sure you can complete the project without ever setting foot on the neighbor’s property. Wherever possible, try to avoid this situation and work patiently with neighbors to come to an agreement.