A Guide to Pennsylvania Fence Laws

Pennsylvania’s fence laws rest on the idea that only the neighbors who need the fence should have to pay for the fence.
Written by Jim Alexander
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
According to Pennsylvania law, neighbors are not compelled to assist in the building, upkeep, or repairs of shared fences unless they both own livestock that is protected by the shared fence.
It can be difficult to deal with neighbors, who sometimes have competing opinions when it comes to shared property lines. One of the thorniest issues is that of fences along property lines. 
If you live in Pennsylvania, it can be difficult to figure out what your rights are when it comes to shared fences and what the law requires—or does not require—you to do.
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What is the law on fences in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania law states that neighbors are not required to share in the construction, upkeep, or repairs to shared fences unless they both maintain livestock that is guarded by that shared fence.
For most of Pennsylvania’s history, fencing laws focused primarily on boundary fences, which quite literally were fences that marked the boundary of each landowner’s property and prevented livestock from wandering away. A 1997 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision helped modernized these laws.
What that means for you is that if you do not want a fence, you will not be required to pay for it even if your neighbor builds one on your shared property line.

Pennsylvania’s Doctrine of Consentable Lines

Pennsylvania is an old state, and land surveying was not as reliable or widely used as it is today. 
Doctrine of Consentable Lines
is a state law that deals with the problem of what happens when two neighbors have agreed on a property line for many years, only to later find out that the property line is in a different location.
To help sort out this thorny issue, the Doctrine applies a 21-year rule. If two neighbors have agreed on a property line for at least 21 years, the law allows the property title to be passed on to the other owner where this mutually agreed on line has been established.
Let's say two neighbors have agreed for over 21 years that an old elm tree separates their properties. A year later, a land survey reveals that one neighbor's property border is ten feet to one side of the tree. After 21 years of mutual agreement, this elm tree still legally forms the property line.
This also applies when a new owner buys a property. If one neighbor agrees with any consecutive owners as to the boundaries of their shared property line, this 21-year law can cover all of the owners and maintains the elm tree as the property line.

Spite fences

One of the most annoying things a neighbor can do is to construct what’s known as a spite fence. This is a fence that is constructed for no reason other than to harass a neighbor, for example building a 30-foot-high fence to block someone’s view from their bedroom window.
While there is no law that specifically covers spite fences, Pennsylvania residents have successfully sued neighbors under nuisance laws. To win these kinds of court cases you typically need to prove the following:
  • The fence is built in a way that prevents you from enjoying your property
  • The fence is built in a substantially unreasonable way
Key Takeaway Unless you raise livestock, Pennsylvania law does not allow a neighbor to charge you for the upkeep of a fence along your shared property line
MORE:How to make a counteroffer after a home inspection

Does Pennsylvania law require fences?

The only type of fence homeowners can be required to build is a pool fence. If you have any kind of pool, including above-ground pools and hot tubs, you must construct a pool fence. Here are the state requirements for that kind of fence:
  • Self-closing, self-latching fence with a mechanism at least 54 inches from the ground
  • At least 4 feet tall with bars that have spaces no wider than 4 inches
  • Solid walls must have no protrusions or indentations
  • Chain link fences should be 2.25 inches square

How to legally build a fence in Pennsylvania

There are no state-wide laws in Pennsylvania when it comes to fence permits.
Many local governments have ordinances and zoning laws that regulate new construction, which can often include new fencing. If you plan on building a new fence, the best practice is to speak with your local government offices to see what laws may apply to you.

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 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. 
MORE: How to choose the right kind of home insurance for you

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While the state government does not have regulations when it comes to building a fence, many local governments do. The best practice is to research your local housing ordinances and zoning laws to see what laws may apply to you.
Unless you both own livestock and share a fence along a property line, a neighbor cannot make you pay for a fence in Pennsylvania.
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