Practicing good etiquette comes with being a good neighbor, and that includes your fence too. Yes, fence etiquette is a thing, and it is crucial to avoiding disputes with your neighbors, legal or not. Local laws regulate much about the structure of a fence, but what about the aesthetics?
Though it is common practice, no law mandates your neighbor get the good side of the fence, though your local city might. Nonetheless, it is good fence etiquette and the most practical option for the owner in terms of safety, repairs, and curb appeal.
Before you begin building a fence at your property, you should always double-check your local laws and regulations. Running it by your neighbor is also a good idea to avoid any surprises. Read on to learn about whether you have to give your neighbor the good side of the fence.
Do You Have to Give Your Neighbor the Good Side of the Fence?
If you want good neighbors, you should start by being one yourself. That means giving others the courtesy that you would want them to outstretch to you. Yes, keeping the noise down and saying good morning is important. However, good neighbor etiquette also extends to building a fence. But what exactly does good fence etiquette look like?
Before you begin any sort of building, you should always give your neighbors a heads up. This rule especially applies to building a fence, as it can also influence your neighbor’s sightlines, house curb appeal, and even property value. In this case, neighborly behavior could save you the headache of a fence dispute in the long run.
When referring to the “good side” of the fence, we mean the flat, more polished-looking side. The “bad side” features the structural elements, like rails and posts. It is good etiquette to give your neighbor the better looking “good side,” but are you legally obligated to do so?
If your homeowner’s association regulates fence placement, then yes. Failing to follow regulations will mean tearing down your fence and even legal troubles. If you are not part of an HOA, then it is up to you. However, keep in mind its fence etiquette, common courtesy, and best practice to do so.
What Are Your Legal Obligations?
When doing any sort of construction, it is crucial to verify what your legal obligations are before you start your project. This will help you avoid scenarios where you have to tear down your fence or deal with legal issues. Though laws vary by state, region, and county, general obligations for fence building include:
- Height: In general, the maximum possible height for a fence is about 6 feet unless the fence is in the front yard or within 15 feet of a street or curb. In these cases, the maximum height is between 3 ½ and four feet tall.
- Placement: It is against the law to build a fence on someone else’s property. Therefore, it is extremely important to check your home’s blueprint or have a survey done to identify your property lines before building.
- Maintenance: The fence owner is legally obligated to maintain the structure of the fence and repair any damages. If the fence is built directly on a property line, the law often casts this responsibility on both you and your neighbor, if they benefit from fence use themselves.
- Prohibited materials: Generally, laws will not dictate how your fence looks, but they can restrict materials that are considered dangerous, like barbed wire or electric fences.
HOA and CC&R
If you are a part of an HOA, there are even more restrictions to keep in mind. CC&R’s generally focus on fence aesthetics and can even regulate the type of wood you use to build your fence.
In these cases, you probably have no choice but to give your neighbor the good side of the fence. These restrictions ensure consistency and cohesion throughout a neighborhood.
Benefits of Practicing Good “Fence Etiquette”
So you are ready to build a fence that follows all local regulations, and now it is time to talk to your neighbor. This can be a stressful situation, especially if you do not know your neighbor well, but good fence etiquette can be beneficial for so many reasons.
For one, practicing good etiquette and giving your neighbor the good side of the fence is a good compromise: you are building a boundary that affects their property, so it is only fair that they get the good side to look at. Happy neighbors mean peaceful living for everyone.
In addition to peaceful living, using good fence etiquette and giving your neighbor the good side of the fence is best practice for you too. Facing the good side towards your yard can pose many issues in terms of:
Therefore, giving your neighbor the good side is a win-win for everyone, and even if you are not legally obligated to do so, it should be your gold standard.
If you are thinking about keeping the good side of the fence for yourself, consider this: posts and rails out in the open make scaling your fence a breeze. Unwanted visitors are given quick access to your yard and even your home. The safety and security of your property are therefore put at higher risk for intruders.
Giving the good, flat side of the fence to your neighbors makes scaling the structure much more difficult and acts as a deterrent. The same logic applies to dogs, cats, and even children in the neighboring yard. Popping out a picket or creating any sort of damage is much less likely and much more difficult on the flat side of the fence.
In addition to safety, repairs are much easier to spot and fix when you give your neighbor the good side. Posts and rails are the main structure of the fence, and if they sustain any kind of damage, it can compromise the entire structure. Consider these points:
- If you keep the good side for yourself, you probably will not notice any damage.
- Maintaining your fence is a legal obligation. Not noticing fence damage is no excuse in the eyes of the law, so giving up the good side may help you avoid legal issues, too.
- If both you and your neighbor benefit from the use of the fence, you are both considered owners and are legally obligated to split repair costs.
Giving your neighbor the good side of the fence looks better. Though you may think having the prettier side visible to you is more important, consider curb appeal. The fence will look backward if built with the bad side facing out. Curb appeal contributes to house value, so following customary practice here will benefit your pocket.
If you are set on having the good side for yourself, consider installing a shadow box or “good neighbor fence.” This type of fence is built to look identical on both sides, meaning you and your neighbor both get the best of both worlds. These fences are built using a “sandwich construction,” making them sturdier than standard fences, which is also a plus.
Even if you are not legally obligated by CC&R’s to give your neighbor the good side of the fence, you should still do it. Not only will good fence etiquette avoid disgruntled neighbors who may file a legal complaint against you, but it will also benefit you as the fence owner in many different ways.
Overall, giving your neighbor the good side of the fence is best practice for all parties involved and will allow you to enjoy your new privacy in peace and quiet. If you have a wonky fence, be sure to checkout our article on how you can go about fixing a leaning fence!