When people decide to purchase property, they tend to do so without really considering the people they will be living next door to. We usually don’t have the opportunity to meet our neighbours before we actually move in but we all hope to have those dream neighbours – maybe kids for your own kids to play with, or fantastic gardeners willing to share their expertise to help you get started on your own garden, or someone who you just enjoy having a chat with at the mailbox. But unfortunately, sometimes neighbours just don’t get along, then little problems can become big problems and escalate into big disagreements very quickly.
Overhanging tree limbs, car parking and fence disputes are some of the most common issues that people seek legal advice about in relation to their neighbours. These problems tend to have a common denominator – a disagreement over where one property starts and the other ends.
A dividing fence could be the answer, it provides a physical boundary designating each party’s space, but who should pay for the fence?
Where there is no existing fence, then you and your neighbour should split the cost equally. Likewise, if an existing dividing fence needs to be repaired or replaced because it is damaged or deteriorated, the cost should be shared. You should obtain some quotes for the fencing work required, provide them to your neighbour, and ideally reach an agreement about sharing the costs. The agreement should always be put in writing to avoid disputes when the bill arrives.
But what if one neighbour wants a more expensive or higher fence for privacy, or needs the dividing fence to be swimming pool compliant, or wants to match the fence on the other side of their property? Fence costs do not always have to be shared equally between neighbours, particularly in circumstances where one property owner wants more than just a “sufficient” dividing fence between the adjoining properties. But this does not mean the property owner who wants the more expensive option should pay all the costs, only the additional costs above what a standard fence would cost.
What if you cannot agree? If you and your neighbour cannot agree on the type of fence or sharing the costs, you have the option of serving a Fencing Notice on your neighbour. If agreement is still unable to be reached, you can then apply to the Local Court or NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal for orders for the fencing work to be done. This is obviously a more time consuming and potentially expensive option and could be the beginning of an ongoing war with your neighbour over every little issue – the overhanging tree branch could well be next!
My not-so-legal advice is to sit down a have a coffee with your neighbour, have a conversation about your fence issue, consider each other’s perspective and hopefully reach an agreement about the costs. Maybe they will even become your dream neighbour once the fence issue is sorted out. After all, you do have something in common, you both decided to live in this beautiful area!
Here is a related article by a Coffs Harbour based Landscaper: Dividing Fences and Retaining Walls – Who’s Responsible?