Profile picture for Blugrey

Can a neighbor demand half the cost for a new fence?

I am about a week away from closing on this REO home. A couple days ago while I was showing a tree I wished to have removed, the neighbor next door approached me and wished to know if I am the new owner, I said I hope to be in about a week, she then informed me that they had to put up a new fence (which is on the boundary) and believes I should go in on half the cost of the fence.  The new fence they put up is between my property and theirs. The cost is about $5000 for my share.

I don't have a problem going in on a fence with my neighbors, but I'm just so caught off guard at the moment I'm not sure what to do. I still need to fix up the house I'm buying!

How do I handle this?  I'm a first time home-buyer and a bit non-plussed.

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January 04 2012 - US
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Answers (39)

General question to all who care;

Under what principle of law would Blugrey need to "settle"? Neighbor law?
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January 04 2012
Profile picture for Caveat Emptor
in the case of a country home, i feel that you are still in a strong position to settle for less.

First, as said below, it is probably the bank's problem if the fence is already up. Second, as said before it has to benefit you in some way. a 4ft tall whirlwind or small wood would have been sufficient as a property line indicator, based on the comment you just made, it sounds like this fence is overkill. Third, as you have said, you aren't financially able to just throw out 5k. I still recommend you follow my advice below however.

from a practical concern, you have 2 options. 1, be neighborly and offer to pay for your half of the fence, 1000 up front and maybe 100/month until its paid off, using the rest of the money to fix up your home. no sense in trading off necessary fixes for a fence that probably wasnt even your problem to begin with

2 tell them that they "should have given you some input, that you didnt even own the house when the work was done and that you cant be expected to pay 5000 for a fence that you didnt want or need(whether or not you did want it). offer them something(or nothing) and tell them to take you to court where you'll inform the judge that the fence was pre-existing when you purchased the home and he'll award them nothing"

even if you lose in court, you'll still be able to setup a payment plan and they usually aren't that bad. you'll be able to fix up your house the way you want to.
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January 04 2012
Profile picture for wetdawgs
As the fence was erected before you became the owner, the issue is between the previous owner and the neighbors.

Yes, the attorney input would be good.
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January 04 2012
Is there an Attorney helping you with the closing? If so, ask them what you should do. I wouldn't give the "neighbor" a dime for a fence they built before I even looked at the house. They'd have to sue me, if they wanted any of my cash. Fences are a luxury, not a requirement. They built it, to protect themselves form the unknown of a new neighbor, or from the potential blight of a vacant house sitting for who knows how long.

This situation would make me want a new survey, or some assurances from the title company that the fence was, or  wasn't, on the property I was buying. If it is an encroachment, they may have paid for it, and you may end up owning it.

This isn't a Zillow free advice type question. You should have at least one person being paid to answer this for you. Ask them, now.
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January 04 2012
Profile picture for Blugrey
This is a "Country" home, so the back yard is pretty huge. But yes, I thought the cost is quite pricey.  Since the fence is already erected, I don't really have a say on the type!

I wonder if the other neighbor on the north side wants a new fence, are they just waiting for me to move in to pounce!

I knew when I first saw the home that the fencing around the entire perimentor was in need of repair or replace. I guess I thought I could get to each section at a time as my finances allowed.

I really needed to do repairs to this house, that's why I set aside the cash that I did.

I'm a bit upset.
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January 04 2012
Profile picture for Caveat Emptor
I would say that you are in a strong position to settle for less. far less. not only do you not "have to" go in for fences that dont benefit you, but you also can't be forced to put up whatever the other guy wants. Generally, you can replace a broken fence with the same kind of fence or like a chain link fence, but if you spend too much the other guy is only on the hook for a "reasonable cost" for the fence. unless this is a 3 or 4 acre lot of land, i dont see ANY justification for your 50% being than maybe 300-1200 for a typical yard. Also, since the bank owned the home when the fence was repaired, it is, (imo) the bank's problem.

My advice
1. offer to settle for a reasonable amount, if they decline step 2
2. demand to see the work order that says "100 feet of fence, 10,000 dollars" or whatever(walk your fence line). also, ask why it cost so much, why the fence HAD TO be replaced, what condition it was in before, etc.
3. get your own estimate for what the work wold cost from 2-3 other companies ask about standard fences if the fence in question isn't either whirlwind or regular wood. if the fence was damaged in 1 corner per your interview, ask what it would cost to just replace 5 feet of fence instead.
4. offer new settlement of 60%(on the grounds that its more than he would get in court) of this number or 5000, whichever is less(note, a settlement for any amount is not binding unless accepted, the court will not use this as an admission of guilt nor a fair market value. in court they will probably order 50% of the estimate (or nothing).
5. having done your neighborly duty, sit back and wait for justice to be handed down from above, because undoubtedly your neighbor is out for the whole 5k. take your chances in court.
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January 04 2012
And if you bought the property with the fence in place that should have been addressed with the previous owner (although I'm sure the bank laughed and said call the new buyer). If a person choses to put in a fence, they will usually discuss it with the neighbors and come to a decision everyone can live with. I really doubt they can legally make you pay. Bottom line is they should have waited and given you input, seeing as it is your money. However, as you know you are going to be in close quarters with these people for a while...daily.

I understand you being non-plussed. If they expected you to pay it should have been discussed first as to style, cost, maybe even sweat equity. Can you give an idea of how many feet the boundary is and type of fence?
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January 04 2012
No, you don't have to help pay for the fence.
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January 04 2012
Profile picture for wetdawgs
Usually the cost of a fence that benefits both neighbors is shared between neighbors, but not always.  This is especially true if it is a replacement fence.  If it is for their convenience but of no benefit to you it tends to be their cost.    $5000 seems like a huge cost for a shared boundary - what is the length of the fence?   If you are paying half the cost, make sure it is half the cost of the shared boundary and not half the cost of the entire fence project.  You should also have a say in the type of fence.   They cannot just walk up and demand the $5000 from you.
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January 04 2012
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