How to negotiate fence changes with neighbours

Fence
Because fences are shared by many, it makes an awkward exchange when you would like to update or replace them.

When it comes to negotiating property lines and fences with neighbours, things unfortunately don’t always go to plan. 

In a perfect world, neighbours would each pay half the cost of replacing the fence or repairing it and come out the other side as friends. However, sometimes it is not that simple.

Disputes about fences between neighbours are common and no two situations are exactly alike. Dividing fence disputes usually arise when neighbours can’t agree on a price for the upkeep of a fence, the height of a fence or the reinforcing of a fence for pets.

This quick guide will help you navigate your negotiations with your neighbours to end with a positive result and perhaps a new friendship.

Talk to your neighbour before taking action

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Having a friendly conversation about your fence is the first step to get your problem resolved. Slip a note into your neighbours mailbox or under their door letting them know you would like to talk about the fence. It is best to chat with your neighbour face to face so you can pick up their social cues and build some rapport with them.

Before talking to your neighbour, have clear in your mind exactly what you would like to discuss. You might even visit a few fencing websites to get a general feel for how much the job will cost. It is important to explain to your neighbour exactly how the fencing issue is affecting you and then let them comment on how they feel about the fence. Listen and respect your neighbour’s opinion. If your neighbour agrees, work out a solution together. You can both go in search of a good quote, pick a fencing option you are both happy with and agree on a payment amount for the job.

If your neighbour does not agree with your proposal don’t resort to blaming them or arguing; tell them instead how the proposal will benefit them.

If you can’t talk with your neighbour face to face, write them a ‘fence notice’ telling them about the issue with the fence, how it will be built and the estimated cost complete with their contribution.

Make sure you have written documentation

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When you agree on a solution with your neighbour make sure you both sign some written documentation agreeing on to the terms of the fencing solution. Make sure you write down the agreed on cost and the portion you will each pay and note down all the information you can. This document will safeguard you against any wrongdoing on your neighbours part.

Check your state regulations

When repairing a fence or installing a new one you should check if you need any permits from the council.

Unfortunately, there is no Australia-wide set of regulations when it comes to fence disputes and repairs; each state is different.

A quick overview of the state laws is as follows. For further information click the links at the bottom of the article.

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Queensland 

Fences built on the common boundary line are owned equally by neighbours. If the fence is built on one of the neighbour’s land, it is owned by that neighbour (even if both neighbours paid for it). Build your fence on the boundary if you wish to split the cost.

New South Wales

Both parties must pay equally for the fence regardless of the boundary. The fence must be classed as a ‘sufficient fence’ and if either owner wants a higher cost fence they must pay for the difference themselves.

Victoria

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Regardless of whether the fence is built on the boundary line, both adjoining neighbours must split the cost of maintenance and replacements.

Tasmania

When replacing or repairing a fence it must be rabbit- proof. The proportion of the contribution from each neighbour is decided on by arbitrator. Normally neighbours pay an equal share.

Western Australia

Like most other states, fences in Western Australia need to be paid equally by neighbours regardless of whether they are located on the legal boundary lines.

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South Australia

Regardless of whether the fence sits precisely on the boundary or not, it is owned by both neighbours and therefore both parties should pay half. 

Northern Territory

Both parties must contribute to the repair and replacement of the fence regardless of whether it is on the legal boundary line or not.

Know your rights

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Sometimes settling a fence dispute can be harder than anticipated. If a neighbour has damaged the fence or has refused to help out with a fence in disrepair there are actions you can take to resolve the issue with the help of the law.

You can choose to go through mediation—each state will have different centres and organisation for this. You can also take the matter to court through a tribunal in your state.

South Australia: https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/planning-and-property/owning-a-property/fencing-boundary-and-encroachment-disputes

Queensland: https://www.qld.gov.au/law/housing-and-neighbours/disputes-about-fences-trees-and-buildings/avoiding-fence-tree-and-building-disputes/your-responsibility-as-a-fence-owner

New South Wales: http://legalanswers.sl.nsw.gov.au/neighbours-and-law/dividing-fences

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Victoria: http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/justice+system/laws+and+regulation/civil+law/fencing+law+in+victoria

Tasmania: https://www.legislation.tas.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1908-040

Western Australia: https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/building-commission/dividing-fences-0

Northern Territory: https://nt.gov.au/property/homeowners-and-landlords/fencing-and-boundary-disputes

Have you ever had to replace a fence? How did you go about it?