How can I get my neighbor to remove this ad hoc, eyesore of a fence?
May 25, 2014 4:41 PM   Subscribe

This winter we bought a house in a Boston, MA neighborhood. A couple weeks ago, our next-door neighbor put up an ad-hoc fence using plastic netting and some flimsy spikes. The fence promptly fell over. They've since replaced it with this fence. I do not want this fence to be there. How do I get them to get rid of it?

I have not met these neighbors, not even to exchange pleasantries. Any time I enter my back yard, they leave their back yard. Our other neighbors say that this fence may be there because the fence-builder's dog (a Lhasa apso?) bit a previous resident. As you can see from the photo, this fence would not prevent the dog from entering our yard as it doesn't even run the length of the property. My other neighbors also say that, based on their experience, simply asking the fence-neighbor to remove the fence is unlikely to get me anywhere.

Is it even legal to put up a fence like this? I haven't had the land surveyed, so I don't know how close it is to the actual property line. I don't want to go straight to the lawyers unless I have to. I guess I'm partially wondering whether my objection to the fence is reasonable.
posted by santry to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If I were you, I'd just put up a fence of my own.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:46 PM on May 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

I don't think there's a way you can dictate what they can and can't do with something on their own property, no. If it's on their property, they can do pretty much whatever they want.

I'd put up a more attractive fence of your own, or some hedges, if it's just the eyesore bit you object to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:48 PM on May 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's not much of a fence, so it seems they're more likely trying to make a statement about where your yard ends and theirs begins. I'd check your purchase paperwork and/or hire a surveyor to determine where the property line truly is, then build yourself a fence or plant a hedge or some such. That's the only way you can truly control what you look at when you're out there.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:52 PM on May 25, 2014 [40 favorites]

I'm partially wondering whether my objection to the fence is reasonable.

It is unreasonable to expect someone who owns a property with no community restrictions on what to do with the property to use the property in the way you want rather than the way they want.
posted by saeculorum at 5:01 PM on May 25, 2014 [17 favorites]

I don't think you can. Our neighbor put up an ugly fence between us too (not to mention an ugly extension on his house), and we just have to suck it up (and figure out what fast-growing trees we can put in on our side to block the sight). Life (and homeownership) can be that way.
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Google the term "spite fence".

Then quickly put a nice one up yourself. (A nice, regular, pretty fence - not a nice spite fence. Do not put up a fence that they might perceive as a spite fence. But go put up a fence.)
posted by maryr at 5:07 PM on May 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

And yes, make sure you get the right property lines and/or go conservative and put it a bit inside your yard. Or you may find your fence dug up in the night.
posted by maryr at 5:08 PM on May 25, 2014

I agree with BlahLaLa. I can't picture a person who put up this "fence" because they just happened to want a fence there. If they just happened to want a fence, they'd put up a real fence. There's some reason they believe there NEEDS to be a fence there, and yet I'm going to guess they may presently lack the means to actually build a real fence there. I'd check on the location of the actual property line first, and then, if you have the means to do so and this is actually properly where the property line is, I'd offer to build a real fence at the property line. I've seen some fences that qualified as ugly, but this seems to qualify more as an attempt to create a fence without having the resources for a proper fence.

I don't think it really behooves anybody to try to guess the why of it, though, when you haven't made an attempt to ask yet. Drop a note in their mailbox with an email address and phone number where they can contact you. Be friendly about it, and if you're in a position to help financially with a more mutually acceptable fence, you might mention that. But don't make firm arrangements until you're sure about property lines.
posted by Sequence at 5:19 PM on May 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mylawd, is that really nothing more than different colored strings?

I'm with BlahLaLa -- that eyesore appears to serve little practical purpose, so it could be an attempt to claim territory. Since you moved in, have you done anything that crossed this declared boundary? Did you throw snow over there? Have kids/pets who may have crossed into "their" yard? Do they routinely access their property by walking through this way? It may be little more than a passive-aggressive shout of MINE!

Zoning regs are worth checking into, as in some communities, even the type of fence construction permitted is spelled out in the codes (and you may need to know that for your own plans). Second confirming the property line. In your place, I'd be inclined to take a plate of homemade cookies over, introduce myself, offer some neighborly chit-chat, and then ask a few friendly, very non-aggressive questions about their intentions ... "It looks sort of temporary -- is it a trellis for climbing vines or something?"

Depending on the response you get (or don't get), plan your next step. If the codes don't support you and the thing is on their side of the property line, I agree with others. Putting up your own fence or hedge will likely be your practical option.
posted by peakcomm at 5:24 PM on May 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

Would you consider going and knocking on the door? Legally you seem unlikely to have any complaint. Your only chance is to ask directly. For example: go knock on their door on a Sunday afternoon, bring a plate of homemade cookies (plate so they have to return it). Make pleasant conversation starting with, "We haven't had a chance to introduce ourselves yet!". Then say something like, "I noticed you put up a fence. We're wondering if you have any concerns..." If they state they are determined to put up a fence, let them know, in a nonconfrontational way, your plan to have property line assessed and offer to put up a nice fence (if you're willing). Couch this in terms of, "We want to choose something that you would also like."

Seems to me ongoing good relations with the next door neighbors is a high priority.
posted by latkes at 5:26 PM on May 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh, agree it could be a raspberry trellis or some equivalent.
posted by latkes at 5:27 PM on May 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

My take on this: your grass is long, their grass is shorter. In my neighborhood, people are really weird about mowing their lawns a lot and adhering to property lines. There is always a tiny strip of 1 foot of shaved grass on the front of our house, and the tree line on the other side is meticulously long and the edge on their side is mowed. We have no control over this, as we rent. But those guys are out there every other day, shaving their lawns within an inch of its life.

It is a statement of the property line and your lack of lawn mowing, in my opinion. Also, you are new to the neighborhood? Heck, they have been there for years! Are you also new to New England? Because, get used to it. The only way to redeem yourself is to keep your lawn mowed and live there a while and wave to them when you take your garbage can in.

If you don't want to do all that, put up your own fence.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:29 PM on May 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

I tried looking into the building codes but apparently there are different codes for different parts of the city. I would call up the city and say you are thinking of building a fence, what regulations are there on height, material and appearance. If their fence fails those specifications call a city inspector and they will get fined eventually. If it does meet code then you have a guide to build your own fence.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:38 PM on May 25, 2014

Massachusetts has a government official who is responsible for resolving these kind of issues. The Fence Viewer.
posted by humanfont at 5:53 PM on May 25, 2014 [13 favorites]

I agree that you should pop over for a chat...but cut your lawn first.
posted by acoutu at 6:13 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you live in a subdivision or other sort of housing development? Those usually have rules about what residents can and can't do with their property. You could probably find out this info at your local register of deeds office.

As mentioned, your city, town, or county council might have certain regulations but they would likely be too general to help you out. But you never know, it varies widely.
posted by lesli212 at 6:17 PM on May 25, 2014

Nthing the advice to check your property line and put up your own fence. But I just wanted to say I think the fence looks kind of cute in an art school project way...I actually like it.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:46 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of this depends on what neighborhood you live in in Boston. Different neighborhoods have different rules/regulations/ridiculousness/etc. Given that the fence does appear to line up with the different lawn heights it also looks to me like this is where your neighbors think the boundary between your yards is and that this is where they'd like to keep it. If that's the case, since this is now a thing, it's probably a good idea to make sure that your neighbors haven't been as interpretative about the property line as they have about the fence.
posted by Verba Volant at 6:48 PM on May 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone. I'll pop over with some cookies for a chat (and after checking some building codes and lining up a surveyor).

There's no HOA or other overseeing body (the development was built in the 60s). Oh, and the lawn is getting cut tomorrow. We have a newborn and, with the rain this past week, it just got away from me. The fence went up long before the grass did.
posted by santry at 7:14 PM on May 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm currently on a private server playing MineCraft which is divided down the middle at 550z, and because the properties are limitless there are no fences.

I so wish there were fences or boundary markers or something because I keep accidentally wandering over into my MineCraft partner's territory. I find it disconcerting and anxiety provoking. I really crave the certainty of knowing which space is mine so I can be at ease, and which space is not so that I won't do something dumb like chop down his silverwood trees. I'm not worried about him wandering into my territory. It's my own transgressions that make me worried.

I say this to try and help you see the neighbours' perspective. I don't think this is a spite fence. I am guessing they just want to know where they stand and what they can and can't do without having to think about it. It's not like they have barricaded you out either, or blocked your view. They have created a fence that allows you access to their property and plenty of light.

In a lot of places fences are the joint responsibility of the property owners. I would definitely drop a note in their mailbox and volunteer to chip in to the cost of some boundary markers. You might not even need a fence. They might be very glad of a flower bed or an intermittent row of shrubs.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:06 AM on May 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

When my in-laws were training their dogs to an invisible fence they had a temporary orange plastic fence (albeit in the backyard behind a regular wooden fence [bisected the backyard]) so maybe your neighbors are training their dog to stay on their property? If so the temporary fence will only be up for a few weeks and come down a bit at a time, good luck!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 4:12 AM on May 26, 2014

If there's no HOA and the fence is on their property, I don't think you can make them take it down. Your best bet is going to be to build a fence of your own, or maybe offer to go in jointly on a fence on the property line.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:04 AM on May 26, 2014

How do I get them to get rid of it?

By a) quietly respecting the property line demarked by the fence, gaining the trust of your neighbors and hoping they'll take it down, b) building your own fence parallel to theirs to demonstrate that you also know where the line is, or c) proving via land survey that the fence is on your property.

Your neighbors put that fence up to stake a claim. They might be attempting to pull one over on you and grab land, or they might be starting fresh and strictly enforcing the boundary after years of the previous owner's transgressions across the line. Either way, they will not be receptive towards any attempt to discuss the fence's aesthetics or reason for being.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:10 AM on May 26, 2014

Unless the fence really is on your property, I'd liken this situation to the masking tape that WKRP's Les Nessman put on the floor to denote his "office". The fence in the picture is hardly a spite fence, and for whatever reason your neighbors feel it's important to mark the property line in some way. As with Nessman, not playing along or questioning their motives will only make the situation worse.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:25 AM on May 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should let the other neighbor's view of the string fence neighbors get in the way of your relationship with your neighbors. I would also try and view the fence in the best way possible- I could see them staking out their territory- especially as you just moved in. I live in Boston too, and my neighbors and I don't have a fence between our yards, and it is fine- but some new neighbors moved in on the other side of said neighbor and got all weird about the property lines on their mutual side. Boston has terrible property line issues, and having had a surveyor do work when we put up a fence on another part of the property who threw up his hands and said he couldn't get a good line. If my immediate next door neighbor were to move, I would most definitely place something to delineate where my yard ended and the new neighbors began just to avoid a conflict. You don't want that fence there- what are you going to do about it? I would first figure out what you are willing to do- pay for a fence? Pay for half a fence? And meet the neighbor with what you want in mind.
posted by momochan at 6:48 AM on May 26, 2014

I get the feeling they've put up this fence in a passive-aggressive way to say they'd like a proper fence between your two properties but would like you to install one at your expense. But all the same, I wouldn't confront them about it. I'd just meet with them to tell them you'd like to install a fence and to make sure that you're putting it in the right place, you're going to check out the property line. The one thing I would make sure to do is place the posts on your side of the property and the nice side facing their property. I've noticed lately in my town that people have begun doing the opposite and not only is it unneighborly but when you need to fix a post, you'll have to go on their property to do so.
posted by SA456 at 8:58 AM on May 27, 2014

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