California’s 2013 Good Neighbor Fence Act states that fences are assumed to benefit both neighbors equally. If you build a fence around your property in California, you’ll need to inform your neighbors in advance so they can share the expense.
New England poet Robert Frost wrote that “good fences make good neighbors” almost 100 years before California passed its current fence law. Unlike other parts of your property, fences have the potential to affect other property owners and even lead to disputes—so knowing your state’s fence laws is crucial if you have one or are thinking about building one.
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What is the California Good Neighbor Fence Act?
Section 841of California’s Civil Code, also known as the 2013 Good Neighbor Fence Act, lays out the regulations for fences in California. The basic principle of the law is that “adjoining landowners are presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their properties,” and thus must share any “reasonable” costs associated with the construction, maintenance, or replacement of those fences.
In other words, any costs associated with a fence, from its initial construction to a major repair or replacement (say, after a storm), should be split 50/50 between neighbors in California. Additionally, if you plan to install a new fence or make any changes to an existing one, you must notify your neighbor in writing 30 days in advance. Your notice should include:
- A description of the proposed fence or the problem that needs to be addressed
- A proposed division of costs
- A proposed timeline for the project
- An invitation to discuss the project
Exceptions to the Good Neighbor Fence Act
But what happens if one property owner doesn’t want a fence—or if they’d prefer a cheaper fence than the one their neighbor proposes? Under California’s fence law, can you be required to pay for a fence you don’t want?
The short answer: sometimes. If you just don’t care for fences, or if your aesthetic taste clashes with your neighbor’s, you may have to work out the issue between the two of you. But you may have legal recourse to avoid paying for a fence if you can demonstrate that equal responsibility would be unjust, such as if:
- The financial burden would outweigh the benefit of the fence
- The cost to build or repair the fence would be greater than the difference in the value of your property before and after installation
- Paying for the fence would create undue financial hardship
- The costs of the fence appear excessive, unnecessary, or directly related to your neighbor’s personal taste
If you can prove that your neighbor is imposing unnecessarily on you, a court may decide in your favor and require a different allocation of financial responsibility or a cheaper fence.
California also has a special law regarding “spite fences.” Under
Section 841.4of the state’s civil code, any fence or fence-like structure over 10 feet that’s “maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying” a neighbor can be considered a spite fence—and you can sue your neighbor for private nuisance if they build one.
Key Takeaway In most cases, fence construction and maintenance costs must be split evenly between neighbors in California.
Does California law require fences?
The only type of fence homeowners can be required to build is a pool fence. If your California home has a swimming pool deeper than 18 inches, you must have a fence around the pool that meets the following requirements laid out by the California Building Code:
- Self-closing, self-latching fence with mechanism at least 54 inches from the ground
- Maximum vertical clearance of 2 inches
- Total height of at least 60 inches
- At least 11-gauge chain link (for chain link fences)
- No gaps or features that could allow a small child to climb over
Sunny California is known for its pool culture, so if you’re one of the many Golden State homeowners who maintains a swimming pool, make sure that your fence conforms to these requirements.
How to legally build a fence in California
If you want to build a fence around your property in California, start by informing any neighbors whose property the fence will adjoin. If you’re not quite sure where your property line is, you’ll need to have the property surveyed.
Write a “good neighbor fence letter” to your neighbors to make sure they’re aware of and comfortable with their equal financial responsibility for the fence. Make sure to send the letter at least 30 days in advance to give your neighbor(s) time to respond. If there’s any disagreement, you may be able to resolve it privately, but be prepared to go to court if there’s any serious dispute.
In most cases, you do not need a permit to build a fence under 6 feet tall. To be specific, a fence in your front yard must be 42 inches or shorter, and a backyard fence can’t be over 72 inches—any taller, and California’s building code requires that you obtain a permit for the fence unless the top two feet are barbed wire.
Does homeowners insurance cover fences?
Fences are considered “other structures” under your homeowners insurance policy, and they’ll typically be covered for up to 10% of your dwelling’s coverage limit. Your fence is covered for the same perils as your main house—usually including fire, hail, lightning, and vandalism.
If your fence is damaged by a storm, a California wildfire, or a neighbor’s falling tree, check the details of your insurance policy to see if it’s covered. If it is, be sure to take photographs to submit with your insurance claim.
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Do I need a permit to build a fence in California?
It depends on the height of your proposed fence. If you want to build a front yard fence taller than 42 inches or a backyard fence taller than 72 inches, you’ll need a permit before you can break ground.
Can my neighbor make me pay for a fence in California?
Yes—but not in every circumstance. If you can prove that the fence would cause undue financial hardship, that the cost would outweigh the benefit to you, or that your neighbors proposed a more expensive fence than necessary based solely on their personal aesthetic, you may be able to get a court to excuse you from some or all of the financial burden.
Can I build an 8-foot fence in California?
It’s possible to build an 8-foot fence in California—but you’ll need a permit, unless the top two feet are barbed wire. In addition, if you’re building a fence 10 feet or taller solely to annoy your neighbor, you can expect a private nuisance lawsuit under California’s fence law.