Tell Me More About Good Fences Making Good Neighbors
October 6, 2013 11:37 AM   Subscribe

The fence between my neighbor's house and my house has been damaged by a tree on their side of the fence growing larger and starting to push the fence down. The fence is further weakened by the fact that my neighbor's dog (a very large German Shepherd) often jumps on it when she barks at things in my yard. For the safety of my family I want to get the fence replaced. I would like the owner of the next door property to pay for half. The problem is the property is a rental and the tenants wont give me the landlord's contact info. How can I find out who owns the property?

I looked for info and found this question, however it doesn't really help with a situation where the property is a rental.

I've been over to the neighbors twice to ask for the landlord's contact info. I explained nicely that I was worried about the fence falling down and their dog getting into my backyard and killing my chickens. I really was nice, I brought them eggs and wasn't all like, "You're dog is breaking the fence, Yo!" Instead I blamed it all on the tree. The neighbors made excuses for not giving me the landlord's contact info both times. Once the lady said she had the landlord's number at work and would get it and give it to me later in the week and the second time the man said he would bring it over later that day because he was going to call the landlord himself about something so he'd bring over the number when he "dug it out." But, obviously, they never brought over the number. I don't know for sure, but I get the feeling they don't want to give me the number. It doesn't feel like they are just forgetting. The nice thing is they have been LOTS better about not letting the dog jump on the fence and bark!

So what do you guys think I should do? I want to call the landlord but I don't know how to find out who they are. Maybe I shouldn't call the landlord because maybe the neighbors are doing something they don't want the landlord to know about and they don't want him coming over to the house. If I call him on my own (assuming I can find out who it is), maybe they will be pissed. Life is MUCH better since they started correcting their dog and the fence is not having the daily stress of the dog jumping up on it. Still, it's in bad shape, and we have had to add some (ugly) extra boards to our side to keep it standing. A big wind will probably do it in. I don't want to replace it all by myself because it seems that the causes of the fence's eminent demise all come from the neighbor's side (it is an older fence but the other fences that border the other sides of my yard have several more good years to go). I had considered just leaving the fence in place and installing nice new fencing directly behind it so there would be a double layer of fence between myself and the rental property. Has anyone ever done something like that before? If so, how did it work out?

This is the first house I have ever owned so I have zero experience with this stuff. Any advice is very appreciated. I want to remain on good terms with all of my neighbors if possible, at the same time I want to solve this issue safely and fairly. Also I should add some (maybe) relevant facts such as; I live in Texas in the US, have no HOA and live in something called a "municipal utilities district."
posted by WalkerWestridge to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
You should be able to get it from your local (town or county) office. City Hall, that sort of thing.
posted by kellyblah at 11:40 AM on October 6, 2013

Many towns have a tax assessor's office with an online search. I'd google "{town name} tax assessor"
posted by beyond_pink at 11:42 AM on October 6, 2013

In some places you want the County Auditor. Usually the website will have property records you can search. May not include a phone number, but would have name/address of the owner.
posted by HermitDog at 11:45 AM on October 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

My county has an online tax parcel viewer, even, which will give you the name of the person who pays the taxes on the property. Your county may have something similar.
posted by KathrynT at 11:53 AM on October 6, 2013

Look to see if your County Assessor has property maps posted online. Many many places have made all of this information publicly accessible. Even if they do not, that is who I would call first, to ask nicely for your neighbor-owner's mailing address. They don't need the details, just that you are a neighbor needing to contact the owner. It shouldn't be an issue. The Assessor is who you both pay property taxes to and they most certainly have the information.

Barring that, I'm sure your neighbors really think you want to complain about them. Just keep asking them, keep showing up at their door, perhaps ask other neighbors across the street and on the other side. Someone may know him/her from back when they (maybe) lived there.

If all else fails, I'd walk in to my local police department and briefly explain the issue. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

If your landlord is worth his/her salt, paying for half of that fence is a responsibility of ownership...but then again, so is making sure the neighbors of your rental know who you are and have your contact information.

Good luck!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:53 AM on October 6, 2013

Can't speak to finding the landlord's info, but if you want to keep a civil relationship with the renter's next door, maybe offer to not mention the dog to the landlord and blame it all on the tree. They may be worried that they may be on the hook for the part of the fence repair. Which would be reasonable. If it were me, I would be okay with telling a lie by omission in order to keep the peace between neighbours. But that's just me.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Assuming one of the other comments helps you find contact info for the landlord, after you find it you could go over to the neighbors and say "Thanks for keeping Spot less barky, my chickens are much less skittish now. By the way don't bother bringing me the contact info for the landlord, I found it myself. I'm going to call the landlord so we can set up plans to fix the fence, but of course since you're the ones actually living here, I'd like to make sure the construction doesn't inconvenience you too much. Is there a time that works better for you?"

That way you show you care, give them warning you'll be calling the landlord so they won't get a surprise, and tell them you appreciate what they've done so far. You'll also make it clear that you're not calling to complain about them.

There is a slight possibility they are worried because their lease does not allow for pets. I really don't know what to do if you think that's a possibility; maybe heavenstobetsy's idea of offering not to mention the dog would work here too.
posted by nat at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can look up the address in the property tax rolls here: TaxNetUSA.
posted by magicbus at 12:32 PM on October 6, 2013

In Texas, you look up the appraisal district's office. For example, if you live in Harris County, it's the Harris County Appraisal District, or if you live in Travis County then it's Travis Central Appraisal District. Google your county name plus "appraisal district". Do your search by address, and usually you can also select a year.

(I think MUDs are unique to Texas. Your MUD handles water and sewage, and depending on your area may also be involved in garbage collection, parks and pools, and things like that. Although the MUD factors in when calculating your property tax, it's the appraisal district that actually collects it and has records on it.)

Also, a lot of fences in Texas neighborhoods are "good neighbor" fences -- something to keep in mind when talking to the owner. If your fence alternates like this, then the idea is you pay for your side, and then pay for their side. "Your" side is the part that's pretty (no cross beams visible from inside your lawn).
posted by Houstonian at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2013

(Rather, you pay for your side, and they pay for their side.)
posted by Houstonian at 1:43 PM on October 6, 2013

Okay, you've tried nicely talking to the renters; enough is enough, no more of that.

Finding the owner of the house is easy: your local tax assesment office will have the info, and yes it is *public* info at that. I'll bet you can do it right from the chair you're in right now --- Google Yourtown, Yourstate and the house's address.
posted by easily confused at 2:40 PM on October 6, 2013

I wouldn't put a second fence up. The fence needs to go on the property line, or you may open up a bag of problems you don't want to deal with down the road.

Also, you need to figure out how you're going to handle the tree issue. There are different ways to deal with it, circlling the tree or fencing to either side, but you're probably going to have to agree with the owner on how to do it--unless you replace the fence, in which case, have at it and make yourself happy.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:55 PM on October 6, 2013

Back up. Your issue has nothing to do with the renters, so drop that entirely.

You need an answer to 1 question only: Whose property is the fence on?

If it's on your neighbor's property (the owner, not the renter), then there's nothing to discuss. They can keep it up or not as they choose. They can rip it out with a bulldozer if they want to.

If it's on your property, then it's yours, period. Doesn't matter who built it. If the owner's dog, or vine, or tree limb -- or his renter's -- is damaging YOUR FENCE, then it's his responsibility. Done.

So determine whose fence it is, and proceed accordingly. If you can't navigate the land records, you may need to hire a lawyer to do it. It won't cost that much.

Plenty of advice here on how to find the owner of the adjacent property.
posted by LonnieK at 6:09 PM on October 6, 2013

Who's fence is it? By the way the neighbors are acting it sounds like its your neighbors fence, not yours and that he has told his tenants that thefence is their responsibility.

Offering to split the cost is generous but if the whole fence needs to be replacedi would be expensive because the neighbors on the other side aren't paying.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:11 PM on October 6, 2013

Best answer: It may be as simple as talking with a local realtor.
Good ones will know who owns what.
posted by Pecantree at 6:29 PM on October 6, 2013

Best answer: Nthing contacting your local county Assessor's office. Property ownership is public information. The Assessor should give you the property owner's name, and also their mailing address if it is different from your neighboring address.

Next step (IANAL) is send a registered letter to the owner's address of record, stating that you have a minor legal issue concerning both of your properties that you would like to get rectified, and to please contact you by such-and-such date (I would make it 10 days hence, but again IANAL). Now, at the very least, if the fence falls down and there are any damages, you can prove in court and/or to your insurance company that you attempted in good faith to address the issue before any damages occured. I would also document the dates that you spoke to the renters in an attempt to get the owner's contact info, but otherwise, stop contacting them.
posted by vignettist at 10:52 AM on October 7, 2013

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