At the state level, Iowa landowners aren’t required to build and maintain fences around their property. There are, however, rules and regulations about materials, disputes, and fencing in livestock that you should keep in mind.
Fence laws are difficult to understand and, unlike most parts of your property, have the ability to affect other property owners around you. Whether you hope to build one, dispute one, or maintain one, you must be aware of the requirements in your area in order to avoid breaking the law.
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What are the fence laws in Iowa?
With one exception, Iowa landowners are not required by law to build and maintain fences on their property.
However, a landowner can be compelled to help with the construction or maintenance of a partition fence if an adjacent owner sends them a written request.
For a written fence agreement that lays out who is responsible for fence maintenance and construction, there are two options:
- Adjacent owners can sign a written agreement together
- Adjacent owners can ask fence-viewers (usually township trustees) for a statement that lays out who is responsible for what
If external fence-viewers are required to solve any disputes between landowners,
Iowa Code § 359.A4outlines this process through the following steps:
- The complaining landowner must make a formal request to the township trustees to settle the dispute.
- The trustees must provide five days' written notice to any neighboring landowners who are responsible for the building or maintenance of the partition fence regarding the time and location of the hearing.
- The fence viewers meet and give a formal order allocating responsibility for the partition fence's upkeep or construction.
Fencing in livestock
As we mentioned earlier, there is one exception in which fences must be built.
A “habitual trespass” happens when livestock escapes their enclosure three times in a year, each time trespassing into the same adjoining landowner or public road.
In that case, the local authority may decide (on its own or after receiving a complaint) whether a habitual trespass has occurred. If so, the neighboring landowner might write to the livestock owner and ask for a fence to be built to prevent further issues.
If the fence is not built within 30 days, the problem might be taken to the aforementioned fence viewers. Unless an adjacent property, the adjoining landowner is not responsible for installing or maintaining the fence.
There are no laws in Iowa that specifically prohibit spite fences.
However, a spite fence that prohibits someone from quietly and comfortably living on their property might be declared a nuisance under Iowa law.
How to legally build a fence in Iowa
To install a fence in Iowa, you must first check with your local zoning and permit offices to determine what standards a fence in your location must meet.
There’s a selection of materials that can be used to build a legal fence in Iowa—they include boards, rails, high-tensile wire, or three barbed wires. Each of these materials have specific regulations in terms of height and dimensions, so it's smart to perform a site-specific inquiry before constructing your fence.
Does homeowners insurance cover fences?
Fences are categorized as "other structures" under your home insurance and are often protected for up to 10% of your coverage level. Your fence is protected from the same threats as your main house, which typically include storms, lightning, fires, and vandalism.
Find out if your insurance will cover damages to your fence if it is destroyed due to a storm, a wildfire, or a neighbor's tree falling on your property. If you are covered, take photos of everything to provide alongside your claim.
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Do I need a permit to build a fence in Iowa?
Yes, both residential and commercial fence installations in Iowa require a building permit.
Can my neighbor make me pay for a fence in Iowa?
Yes, if it's on your property line and the fence benefits both of you equally, your neighbor can reach out to you with a written request. If the property line location is disputed, you can conduct a survey to identify where your land starts and ends.
Can I build an 8-foot fence in Iowa?
It depends on the location and purpose of your fence! Rear and side yard fences can be a maximum of 6 feet high, and any fences built beyond the front building line cannot be higher than 4 feet tall.
Fences built solely to protect a garden can be up to 8 feet tall, though—they just have to be located in the rear yard.