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Fence repair question - both moral and legal

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  • Fence repair question - both moral and legal

    We bought a property earlier this year. Its great, and we love it far more than the last owner did. The prior owner let the barn, fence and arena all fall into disrepair, and we've spent the last several months replacing fence, repairing the barn and rehabbing the arena.

    Unfortunately, whoever built this farm originally put all the perimeter fences on the property line. This means that on one side, our pasture shares a three board fence with the neighbor's horse pasture. This particular portion of fence was in pretty bad shape, as was the pasture (WAY overgrazed) so we've been letting it grow, mowing for weeds, and keeping our horses off of it. Now that its looking better, we're thinking of putting horses on the front half of it (its split by a stream) and have repaired (at our cost) the front half of the perimeter fence and installed on our property Horseguard to fence off the stream.

    Well, the neighbors have already complained to us about the lack of fence maintenance done by the last owner, and we told them we would start fixing at least some of it - like the part we intend to use. [I don't know if I'll ever use the back part of the pasture] They blamed all the fence damage on the prior owners horses and said they just couldn't keep up with it, implying that it was our job to fix ALL of the fence at our expense.

    So, this morning, I go out to find the neighbors horses in my front field. A quick check of the fence we've built shows that its just fine. But a trek to the back of the property reveals that the back fence has boards down all over the place, including one section which only has a bottom board and used to have bailing twine tied across it.

    I've called the neighbor and asked them to come get their horses, but my husband feels bad about the last owner and wants to offer to fix all of the fence at our expense. My thought is that if they want that fence to keep their horses in, then they should fix it. We've already done 50% of the perimeter fence we share, so I think legally, they have to fix the back section (or most of it). And morally, I resent the thought that we have to make up for a lousy prior owner in that way. After all, we've already made the neighborhood look a heck of a lot nicer, and have fixed a ton of other fencing!

    So...morally and legally, would you take my approach (and ask them nicely to keep their horses on their property by fixing their portion of the fence) or would you go with my husband's approach (and offer to clean up after the last owner)?
    Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.

  • #2
    I don't know where you're located but I do remember when I worked with horses down in MD, the woman I worked for had fenced in a 25 acre pasture, part of which bordered another farm. She planned to use the no climb type of wire and the owner of the other farm insisted on a board-type of fencing (3 rail board or post and rail) for the part of the shared property line. They did split the cost of the post and rail.

    Also, when I built my farm and did the fencing, I placed my fencing ~2' or more inside the property line. The reason being, if there is a dispute with a neighbor (like you are having) you can still repair any broken boards and never set foot on their property.

    A neighbor decided he was going to put up a barn and do fencing and asked if he could use my fencing for part of his property, in other words, a shared fence line. I told him my fencing was 2' inside the property line and that he could NOT use my fencing as part of his pasture simply because of spread of disease from one farm to another. They showed and I didn't. Also, why should I give him 2' of my property unless he was willing to help me pay my taxes. Another reason was I didn't want to have to repair any damage that might have been done by his horses and I was sure he wouldn't want to repair any damage done by mine. The final reason, his son had an ATV which he rode around the perimeter of their property and I said they would block him doing that. As a result he placed his fencing about 8-10' inside his property line just so his son could ride the ATV.

    Bottom line, go to your county offices and find out if there is code on the books about shared fencing.

    Personally, I think you are certainly within your rights to tell the neighbors that you have replaced a significant amount of the shared fence and they should own up to the rest. If they aren't interested and you end up replacing the fencing, don't follow the property line but do as I did and place it within your boundary line. Then they will have to repair/replace the busted fencing.
    Sue

    I'm not saying let's go kill all the stupid people...I'm just saying let's remove all the warning labels and let the problem sort itself out.

    Comment


    • #3
      Fencing laws vary by state. Since you seem to have neighbor issues as well as fencing issues - a consult with an ag atty is probably money well spent.

      A consultation isn't going to be terribly expensive, but you will walk out of the atty's office armed with solid, reliable information.

      You can find an ag atty via martindale.com, your local bar association, your extension agent might know of a few ag attys in the area, your local farm bureau agent/ins agent might be a good source for a referral.

      Good luck.
      Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
      Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
      -Rudyard Kipling

      Comment


      • #4
        If It were my property, I would bite the bullet and put up nice fencing just inside your property line, and then I would run hot wire on capped t-posts, right on the property line. That's so there's no doubt that you are not "giving up" any of your land. I'm guessing that will keep the neighbors horses on their side of the fence, with little maintenance on your part. A small solar charger should do the trick.

        Comment


        • #5
          Check your local zoning code.

          I bet it requires fences to be set back a certain number of feet from the property line.

          Which solves the dispute. You fence yours, he fences his.
          I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show

          Comment


          • #6
            Morally? Depending on how much I liked these neighbors (yeah, I believe in the sliding moral scale ), I would look at these options:

            (1) Offer to split the cost of replacing the existing section of fence.
            (2) Run a line of hotwire fencing just inside your property line to keep their horses off your land.

            On the legal side, as JSwan already stated, most states have very specific fencing laws that state who is responsible for what. A key concept to look up for your state is whether it is a "fence-in" (livestock owners responsible for containing their animals) or a "fence-out" (property owners responsible for preventing unwanted animal trespass on their lands) state.
            Equinox Equine Massage

            In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me invincible summer.
            -Albert Camus

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Thanks all. I'm in VA, if that helps. I believe (and will check with an attorney friend later who does ag stuff) that we are obligated to share the fencing cost. However, my dilemma is that I don't intend to use the section that is currently broken. (Its a back pasture, and would need a ton more fencing than I feel like doing currently in order to be useable. And I don't need it right now.) As far as I'm concerned, they could tear it down and that would suit me fine. When and if I ever decide to use that back field, I would definitely set the fence off of my property line so that we don't have these diputes.

              However, THEY need the fence to keep THEIR horses in. So whose responsibility is it (morally), given that the fence is on the line?

              I sort-of like these neighbors, but its already been difficult to get them to share the cost of road maintenance on our shared lane. I'm starting to sense a pattern here.
              Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.

              Comment


              • #8
                You should go ahead and check the rules/laws, but I don't think what the previous owners did or didn't do has any bearing on what you do.

                Keep in mind that the shared fence should be shared by both sides in costs of putting up and maintaining.

                If the previous owner didn't maintain, then did the neighbor? It doesn't sound like it. It sounds like the neighbor wants to make it all the previous owner's fault.

                Going forward, they need to split the costs and work of maintaining the fence. Period.

                If you don't want their horses in your front field, you're going to have to fence it to keep their horses out.

                However, if you don't maintain the fence to keep them out, the neighbor can, over time claim possession through use. BEWARE. Do you want to lose that property through lack of use?
                Laurie Higgins
                www.coreconnexxions.com
                ________________
                "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Originally posted by Twiliath View Post

                  If you don't want their horses in your front field, you're going to have to fence it to keep their horses out.
                  OK...fair enough, maybe. But to play devils advocate, why should I have to fence my property in order to keep THEIR horses out? Isn't it their responsibility to keep their livestock on their property?
                  Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    In some states it is the property owners responsibility to fence other peoples animals out- my sister had that happen to her in rural Colorado. If she wanted her neighbors cattle out of her yard, she had to put up the fence.
                    I stand by my previous advice to put up an inexpensive hot wire on your shared property line. Later, if you decide to use that back pasture, then put up a fence that matches what you have-- but leave the wire.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by eponacelt View Post
                      OK...fair enough, maybe. But to play devils advocate, why should I have to fence my property in order to keep THEIR horses out? Isn't it their responsibility to keep their livestock on their property?
                      It's same reason I fenced a portion of my property with Invisible Fence. Before I moved in, neighbor A took neighbor B to court because neighbor B's dog was coming over and chasing birds on neighbor's A's '5 acre bird santuary'. By fencing my dog in, prevents her from visiting neighbor A's property and causing ill feelings. Also I didn't want my barn dog to roam, go out on the road and get hit by a car, and possibly get into the habit of chasing the horses either so the IF runs outside the pastures as well.

                      Take the bull by the horns and tell the neighbor you are willing to share the cost of an electric wire for repairing the existing fence to keep their horses off your field but that you aren't going to put any more $ into it than that because you don't intend to use that pasture at the present time.
                      Sue

                      I'm not saying let's go kill all the stupid people...I'm just saying let's remove all the warning labels and let the problem sort itself out.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Well, what I have offered at this point is fencing materials. We have boards and good fence screws, and I've offered them those, if they're willing to do the work. I think most of the posts are OK.

                        Hopefully, we'll find a solution that both keeps the peace and their horses off my property!
                        Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          You've made them a damn good offer I'd say. You can move next door to me any day.

                          Actually, I'd been thinking about it and if they are stupid enough to turn down your offer of fence boards and screws, maybe you should tell them that you've considered putting up several strands of barbed wire to keep their horses off your field. I'm quite sure you wouldn't do that but they don't know that!
                          Sue

                          I'm not saying let's go kill all the stupid people...I'm just saying let's remove all the warning labels and let the problem sort itself out.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by msj View Post
                            You've made them a damn good offer I'd say. You can move next door to me any day.

                            Actually, I'd been thinking about it and if they are stupid enough to turn down your offer of fence boards and screws, maybe you should tell them that you've considered putting up several strands of barbed wire to keep their horses off your field. I'm quite sure you wouldn't do that but they don't know that!
                            It is quite possible that they would see nothing wrong with that idea
                            I wasn't always a Smurf
                            Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
                            "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
                            The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by carolprudm View Post
                              It is quite possible that they would see nothing wrong with that idea
                              Lordy, I hate to say but you may be very right!
                              Sue

                              I'm not saying let's go kill all the stupid people...I'm just saying let's remove all the warning labels and let the problem sort itself out.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Personally, I would take all the old perimeter fence down. It shouldn't be there, and ought to be discarded.

                                Then, after it was down, (and she has to put up some kind of pasture fencing of her own to keep her horses in) I would tell her that I was willing to do all of the work of putting up a fence between the properties, but that she had to split the cost of the materials with me 50/50 if she wanted us to share perimeter fencing. Its okay, you can say brightly, if she doesn't want to. "I can just put up my own pasture fences within my property as I have the time and money for. I just thought I would offer a perimeter fence if you are willing to split the cost with me. Otherwise, I'm taking the old one down, as I don't have the time or inclination to maintain that old thing.

                                If she didn't want to, I would just put up my own pasture fences within my property as I had the time and money for. That would force her to spend money on her own fencing. Be sure to tell her that anytime she wants to put up a perimeter fence between the properites, you are willing to split the materials 50/50. Once she declines, though, it would take an awful lot, say later in the summer, for me to do the work for free.

                                That's just my take.
                                Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  If they refuse this offer of the materials, I would tell them they're right, the fencing is bad... So you're taking it all down and they have 30 days to put up their own fence to keep their horses out.

                                  If they are using and enjoying the fence, that's on them as well. If they didn't like it, they could have sub fenced their field so that it did not border yours and use the damaged fence. They did not.

                                  Not fair that they get to reap the benefits and none of the work, and put it on a new owner. Put your foot down, this could be the start of them taking advantage.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Be careful about setting your fence "back" from the property lines.
                                    I did that (15') so that we could still get around the outside of the pastures to mow and ride.
                                    The people next door are now constantly parking right up against the fence, they've had a load of gravel dumped up to the fence.

                                    I have gone out several times and asked them to move, I've placed property markers (they mow over them). They set out trees to plant this spring and we moved them back off our property.

                                    If I don't keep on top of it they will eventually "assume" the extra strip of land is theirs. If we decide to fence to the property line it has to be to HOA code, 3-rail fencing, a big chunk of change.
                                    I wish we'd fenced to the property line and put hot wire on top to begin with!
                                    You're entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts!

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      I agree with the suggestion to call the local Ag agent about state fence laws, or the local ordnance people. Laws vary so much by state that it's only a theory as to the right thing to do. And your county might have rules about set backs and fencing type also, so you need to find out the requirements before you make a decision. For example, if you are in a joint fence state you might be required to pay half on a fence if the neighbor calls a commercial fence company and has one put up--and there might not be a thing you can do about it except write the huge check.
                                      You can't fix stupid-Ron White

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        I think any fencing that goes up from now on - you should split the cost with your neighbor. Not just materials - materials and labor. You probably set a precedent when you repaired part of the fence yourself w/o asking them split the cost with you, but that's done.

                                        On the other hand - I have cattle, and I have about an 80 acre pasture for them. The 1000 acres next to my pasture only runs cattle in the summer - mine are in their pasture year round. Last year, we had a problem the first week that the cattle moved in for the summer - they kept breaking into my pasture. Because the fencing had kept mine in all winter - I expected that his cattle had breached the fence, and expected him to maintain/fix the problem - which he did w/o question. I think it's a no brainer - your livestock can not eat my grass - fix the problem please.... But, do split the cost with them. You both are responsible for the fence. It's not like the fence is brand new, and someone ran into it...

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