California’s Property Line and Fence Laws

Your neighbor plans to erect a fence on the property line or boundary between your adjoining residences and wants you to pay half the cost. Is this legal in California? Who is responsible for fences and their construction and maintenance? Can you sue a neighbor over fence issues?

Disputes over fences and boundaries — and even overhanging trees — certainly do arise, and applicable laws exist to help settle the dispute.

If you’re in the San Francisco area, contact Wood Litigation, APC, should you and a neighbor get involved in a dispute over fencing or property lines and boundaries. We know the prevailing laws and can help guide you to a resolution.

California Laws on Property Lines and Fences

California law is pretty straightforward when it comes to responsibility for fences between adjoining neighbors. Section 841 of the Civil Code — also known as the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013 — states:

“Adjoining landowners are presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their properties and, unless otherwise agreed to by the parties in a written agreement, shall be presumed to be equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence.”

The statute requires a landowner desiring to replace, repair, or install a fence on the property line with another landowner to send that neighbor a 30-day notice of that intent, asking for their participation cost-wise. 

What happens if an owner goes ahead and constructs a fence without giving notice — or giving notice that is not responded to — and that fence is clearly meant as an act of retaliation, deliberately obstructs the neighbor’s view, or is patently unsightly? California does have a “spite fence” law allowing the obstructed neighbor to take legal action for remedy.

“Spite fence” law is covered under Section 841.4, which says: “Any fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance.” 

Trees and Tree Trimming on Adjacent Properties

Sections 829-835 further define the responsibilities of adjacent owners, detailing what rights landowners have on the properties they hold “in fee.” For instance, trees on one owner’s property, even if its roots extend to an adjoining property, belong to that owner and no one else can harm the tree under penalty of law.

An adjoining neighbor is allowed to trim a tree that extends onto their property but must obtain permission if they need to enter the other person’s property to do so. The right to trim a tree ends at the property line. If you “harm” a tree on another’s property, you can be sued for restitution, often the cost of replanting the tree.

These sections also require a landowner to give a 30-day notice to adjoining landowners if they plan to excavate for a fence or other structure, especially if they need to enter adjoining land to do so.

Easement and Encroachment Disputes

Arguments and disagreements can also arise when adjoining properties use the same means of access, for instance, a private driveway that goes from the street to both or all of the homes. Generally, some of the homes would need to be set back from the street so they wouldn’t have sole access. This right of way is called an easement. Who is responsible for maintaining this joint access?

Section 845 of the Civil Code states that maintaining and repairing the easement “shall be shared proportionately to the use made of the easement by each owner.”

Encroachment exists when a fence, wall, patio, or other structure extends beyond the property line onto another owner’s property. The two owners may agree to a boundary of their choosing and settle the issue, which is known as the “agreed-boundary doctrine.” Otherwise, the encroached-upon property owner can take legal action.

How Wood Litigation Can Help

Homeowners facing disputes over issues crossing their property line, whether fencing, trees, easements, or simply harassment, shouldn’t go it alone. Statutes may clearly define joint responsibility, but when it comes to putting these laws and standards into practice, disagreements can surely arise.

That’s why you need a strong legal team on your side to explain the law, assess the situation, and arrive at a resolution that protects you and your property rights.

If you’re in San Francisco or nearby in Oakland, San Jose, San Mateo, Santa Clara, contact our experienced real estate law attorneys at Wood Litigation, APC, immediately for an initial consultation.

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