A Guide to Montana Fence Laws

Montana’s fence laws rest on the idea that shared fences benefit neighbors equally—so the costs should be shared equally, too.
Written by Heather Bernhard
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
is one of a handful of open range states in the country, meaning that it is your responsibility to erect a fence to keep livestock off your land. 
If a fence is on a property line between two neighbors, both property owners are expected to take responsibility for that fence. Of course, this can lead to many disagreements, especially if you’re not familiar with the laws and regulations.
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What is the Montana open range policy?

Montana is one of only 13 states that still have an open range policy. This means that livestock is allowed to roam in certain parts of the state, and landowners are required to fence off their land if they don’t want the animals on their property. 
This is the direct opposite of most states, where livestock owners are required to secure their livestock on the land they own or lease. 
also requires adjoining neighbors who enclose their properties with a partition fence to share responsibility for that fence. Though there is no legal precedent, most residents abide by the “right-hand rule”—an informal agreement where both landowners face each other in the middle of the fence and agree to maintain the portion to their right. 
If one neighbor refuses to repair or replace their section of the fence, the other neighbor can take care of it and then seek compensation. 

Exceptions to the open range policy

Livestock owners are required to prevent their animals from roaming onto federal land, including lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Therefore, if you’re a livestock owner and your land adjoins federal land, you must fence your property or otherwise prevent your stock from trespassing. 
In addition, If you don’t want to share the cost of a fence with your neighbor, you are permitted to build a fence next to your neighbor’s fence. However, the fence must be on your side of the property line, and you must observe local ordinances regarding height, the distance between fences, etc.

Spite fences

The Montana Supreme Court defines spite fences as “A useless fence or structure built or maintained by a neighbor for the sole purpose of annoying another neighbor.” If you have a complaint about a neighbor’s fence and believe it to be a “spite fence,” you can request the fence’s removal and seek damages from the person that built it.
Key Takeaway If you and your neighbor both occupy and use the land you own, you are responsible for maintaining and repairing any fence on a shared property line, regardless of who builds it.

Does Montana law require fences?

Montana's law requires all non-livestock owners whose neighbors keep livestock to have a fence. Still, if both neighbors use that fence (meaning they both occupy and use their land), the law considers them equally responsible for the fence's maintenance.
In addition, if you construct a fence and connect it to the shared side of a neighbor's existing fence, you have three months to pay them for half the value of the fence you are connecting to. 
If you have a fence and want to remove it, you legally have to give your adjoining neighbors at least six months' notice

How to legally build a fence in Montana

In most counties, you’ll need a buildingpermit if you want to put up a fence more than six feet tall. Some city ordinances, though, require permits for fences over four feet. In addition, replacing your existing fence without a permit is illegal in most Montana communities. 
To avoid any trouble, contact your local planning committee and ask about fencing regulations. 
In general, fences in residential areas can’t be taller than four feet in the front yard and six feet in the backyard—though exceptions may be granted for fences up to eight feet.  

Does homeowners insurance cover fences?

Homeowners insurance will cover the damage or destruction of fencing, as long as a covered peril caused the damage. Examples of this might include a tree falling onto your fence or a windstorm blowing it down. However, homeowners insurance will not cover damage to your fence caused by a flood
Fences are typically covered up to 10% of your policy’s coverage and at actual cash value (ACV), meaning repair estimates are based on what the fence is worth now, not what you paid for it. If your fence is non-wooden, you can choose to schedule it, which means you can choose to have more coverage for a broader number of risks. 
MORE: Everything you need to know about flood insurance in Montana

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In most counties in Montana, you will need a building permit to build a fence.
If you decide to build a fence, and you attach it to your neighbor’s already existing fence, your neighbor can make you pay for half of the value of that fence.
Generally, residential fences in Montana are limited to six feet in height, but you can apply for an exception.
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