Fencing disputes between neighbors are prevalently money-related. At face value, it only makes sense for the two landowners to split the cost of building and maintaining a shared fence since it is beneficial to both their properties. However, there are so many factors that come to play when dealing with shared fences. A major factor being the unique financial status of every homeowner.
Here is a guide to help you if your neighbor has approached you to split the cost of building a new fence and you cannot afford the expenses that the project would incur.
Neighbors don’t have to split fence costs, especially if one neighbor can’t afford it. Being unable to contribute money should be made clear. But don’t be defensive. Another type of contribution may be possible, like labor or maintenance. The monetary onus of privacy fences belongs to the property owner alone.
Neighbors Should Ideally Split the Cost of a Fence
Splitting the cost of the fence harmoniously is ideal, but not always the outcome. A fence benefits both parties, but not always equally. You might need it for some reason (maybe your kids have reached the age at which they can play outside without constant supervision), but your neighbor’s situation and fence-related needs remain the same.
In these cases, you should get their permission to build, ask if they want to contribute, but there can be no expectation.
You will find some neighbors who don’t want to have anything to do with a fence. They will permit you to install the fence, but have no interest in the outcome and don’t care what you install. Such neighbors will be reluctant to contribute.
What are the arguments in favor of sharing the cost? Maybe you can use a few of these to convince your neighbor to contribute.
Fence Benefits Both Neighbors
One of the chief benefits of installing a fence is security. It protects your home and keeps your loved ones secure. Apart from security, a fence adds to the aesthetic appeal of a property. Hence, installing a fence can also increase the property value in the market.
A fence provides you with security, beauty, and privacy. A fence provides these benefits to your neighbor as well. When you discuss adding a new fence or replacing an old one, you must emphasize the benefits and mention how a fence will be good for both homes.
The issue comes in when both neighbors don’t benefit equally. If you are motivated to put up a fence, your need for it is likely to be the greater one.
You Can Get a Better Fence
When you buy a fence, you buy it for the long haul. As such, it is only sensible that you choose a fence that is really good and long-lasting. So, if two people are contributing, you can usually get a better fence because then the budget increases, and no one has to shoulder the cost alone.
If your neighbor contributes then you can pick and choose from a large variety of fences. You can opt for a classy one that complements the neighborhood or go for a vinyl one that is a little expensive but hardly requires any maintenance.
With a good budget, you can also install a “good neighbor fence”.
A good neighbor fence is the same on both sides, making sure you and your neighbor are equally happy, and there’s no conflict about who gets the good side. Although more costly than a normal fence, a good neighbor fence is always more aesthetically appealing.
Most importantly, you need a fence that must meet the HOA standards and the zoning codes. Before choosing a fence, do refer to your HOA’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions to know exactly what the rules are for your community regarding the fence.
If you want to know more about how to get your fence approved by the HOA, just read my article where I take you through the steps and also provide you with sample letters.
No “It’s My Fence” Issues
A significant advantage of splitting the cost with your neighbor is that there’s no brawl over the ownership of the fence. Both you and your neighbor become co-owners and are equally responsible for the maintenance of the fence.
This equation is slightly altered if the cost of the fence is not split into equal halves. If you pay 60% or 70%, then you do have more say regarding the final design of the fence and more ownership right over the fence.
I would suggest, irrespective of the amount of contribution, involving your neighbor or neighbors (if you share the boundary with multiple people) from the initial stage is a good idea. This way, you reduce the chances of any discord and increase your neighbors’ support for your idea of a new fence.
Eliminate Chance of Resentment
Once you install a fence, it becomes a part of your overall property and needs to be maintained like every other part of your home. Without proper maintenance, the fence will start to look weathered and dull, bringing down the appeal of the property and the durability of the fence.
Splitting costs of a fence ensures there’s no disagreement or confusion between you and your neighbor when it comes to the annual maintenance of the fence. If one person pays for the fence, then that person might expect the other person to pay for the maintenance.
Sharing the cost also ensures that in the future there is no opportunity for ignoring the responsibility of maintenance. No party can use the excuse of not wanting a fence in the first place to evade the cost of maintenance.
So, if your neighbor contributes towards the fence then they will also have a stake in it. The sense of ownership will make them partially responsible for the future upkeep and maintenance of the fence without any resentment. They will cherish and look after the fence, making sure the fence looks beautiful and stays strong to secure both homes.
How Should the Fence Cost Be Split?
Once your neighbor has agreed to share the price, how do you split it? Ideally, a 50/50 split works best for both parties, giving everyone equal rights and say on the final decision making. But that’s not always possible.
The reason for installing a new fence plays a huge role in this. Of course, a fence will benefit both homes, but does your neighbor want or need those benefits?
If your neighbor also wants a new fence as badly as you do, then splitting equally will make sense to them. But if you want a fence so that you can get a dog and your neighbor would be happy to carry on without fence, then you are not both equally benefitting.
Sometimes, your neighbor will insist on equal contribution so that they have a say on the fence as it will also run across their property and affect the look of their yard.
How to split also depends on the financial capability of your neighbor. One reason why they do not want any part of it could be because they are not financially able to do so. Also, if you want a specific fence that seems unnecessarily expensive to your neighbor then, you might have to pay for it entirely.
Whatever be the scenario, as the instigator, you might have to pay the maximum cost while your neighbor will contribute little or maybe nothing at all. It is always better to start by asking them to contribute, but understand if they cannot.
How to Pay the Costs When Split
So, you and your neighbor have reached an understanding about splitting the cost. How do you make the payment? Who pays to whom and what can be the possible payment methods?
Unless there’s a dispute to be resolved, there’s no law to tell you what the payment terms should be. So, it’s completely up to you and your neighbor to decide on the payment method that works for both.
Once you receive estimates from several contractors, share them with your neighbor. This way both of you can discuss and choose the vendor who matches your requirement. Based on that estimate you and your neighbor can agree upon the payment specifications.
There are several ways of making the payment. You both can directly pay the contractor your half or the other neighbor, or neighbors, can pay the instigator who can then remunerate the contractor.
Sometimes, a neighbor might insist on paying in installments if it is inconvenient to pay the lump sum.
Principally, the payment terms and conditions are up to you and your neighbor. You can plan it the way it suits all the parties. It’s always best to decide on the payment right at the beginning to eliminate any chance of misunderstanding later.
Handling the Expense of Maintenance
A fence is a long-term investment as well as an expense. It will require periodical maintenance and might also need some repair work in the future. Therefore, it is always better to discuss in detail the present as well as the future cost of the fence with your neighbor.
In the initial stage when you discuss splitting the cost of a fence, you must also discuss future expenses of the fence with your neighbor. Unless otherwise agreed, the expense of keeping the fence in good condition is yours as well as your neighbor’s responsibility.
Have an actual agreement in place, though. You don’t want to be in a situation where the your neighbor is complaining about the state of the fence but it’s their turn to repair it.
Also, keep in mind that the agreement might change if the owner of the property changes. Then, you will have to make a new agreement with the new owner.
Sometimes, in planned communities, the HOA has specific regulations when it comes to sharing the fence and its maintenance. So, before you install a fence, be clear on all these details.
Responding to Your Neighbor’s Approach
It’s always wise to avoid conflicts with your neighbors. Thus, even if you have no intention of financially committing to the project, it’s best if you don’t come across as a rude snob.
Be Honest and Avoid Being Defensive
You’d have to be forthright with them from the onset. You shouldn’t start off saying that you will cover part of the expenses and then change your mind after you have come to an agreement.
The best approach is to outrightly inform them that you cannot cover the financial cost of building a new fence at that moment. If you need time to think about it, you can tell them to get back to you, or you both can fix another meeting where you would tell them what you can contribute to the project.
How your neighbor receives your reply would depend on their personality and your relationship with them. Another factor that could affect their response would be your attitude to their approach. If you come across as defensive, it’d make you seem as though you feel offended by their approach. Unfortunately, studies show that defensive behavior elicits a similar response from the other party.
You Don’t Have to Divulge Financial Details
To gain understanding from your neighbor, you might be tempted to divulge your personal financial information. However, you aren’t obligated to do so.
This doesn’t however mean that you give them an abrupt response. You don’t have to tell them that you’re behind on your mortgage or that a bulk of your income has gone into paying your children’s tuition, and you are merely getting by. Instead, you could tell them that you have a lot of financial responsibility at the moment, and adding the cost of building the fence would be too much for you.
The fact that your neighbor is ready to erect a fence doesn’t mean that you must be at that place financially as well. If a landowner decides to build a fence, it is generally believed that he/she should also be able to bear the entire financial burden of the project. So, you shouldn’t feel guilty for not having the financial means to contribute to the project.
Can You Pay a Portion or Help With Labor?
Should you decide to pay a portion of the building expenses, you can work out a payment plan together. At this point, you must have had a conversation with them and informed them that you wouldn’t be able to cover half of the building cost like they expect you to.
Although most state laws demand that both adjoining owners share equal responsibility for the fence, you don’t have to split the bill 50-50 if you cannot afford it. Instead, you should agree on a percentage that you’re sure you can cover. For instance, you could split the bill 70% to 30%, 60% to 40%, or even 80% to 20%.
Alternatively, you can cover all or part of the labor cost. If you’ve got the required skill, you can even offer to build the fence.
You can also offer to buy some of the building materials. This way, you show your commitment to the project without causing yourself much financial strain.
Can You Assist With Maintenance?
Fence expenses do not end after they are built. Some fences demand more maintenance than others. The cost and effort required to maintain the fence would depend on the material used to build the proposed fence.
If the fence is made from materials like steel, wrought iron, or composite, you might not have to do much. However, if it is constructed with materials like wood or vinyl, then the maintenance of the fence would be more demanding.
If you decide to take responsibility for maintaining the fence, you can formalize the arrangement by putting it into writing. In the agreement, you should answer the following questions:
- How long would you be covering maintenance?
- How often should maintenance be carried out?
- Are you taking sole responsibility for maintaining the fence during this period, or would they have to help in some areas?
- Are you going to be responsible for repairs as well?
Before you make this commitment you need to be certain that you can manage this responsibility.
Don’t Let Them Bully You
Although you might feel guilty for not contributing to a project that would be beneficial to you, you still shouldn’t let your neighbor disrespect you. More so if you have a decent fence in place and your neighbor merely wants to make an upgrade.
If you cannot contribute to the project, let them know and if they insist on going on with construction, inform them that it would have to be without any financial help from your end.
Don’t allow them to make you feel bad for your decision. The fact that one homeowner is financially able to shoulder the cost of a new fence doesn’t mean other people would have disposable income to spare as well.
If they get confrontational, stay out of their way and try not to exchange words with them.
If they keep making trouble even after you’ve told them that you cannot cover the cost of the fence at the moment, then you could inform them that they’d have to shift their fence building plans until you can afford to pay your share of the expenses.
However, you should only be this understanding if the fence in question is a partition fence. If it is a privacy fence, you should outrightly inform them that they’re solely responsible for the fence and you wouldn’t be making any financial contribution to the project.
One final note would be to make sure that the fence they put up is definitely on the property line. You don’t want to have to approach them about moving the fence later on because it’s encroaching on your property. They could also end up owning whatever portion of your property they enclose with their fence!