Neighbor wants to paint his side of our new fence -- what should I know?
February 6, 2017 5:58 AM   Subscribe

We just paid to have a brand new wood privacy fence installed around our backyard. It is entirely within our property. We do not intend to paint it. Next door neighbor wants to paint the side facing his house white. In the spirit of neighborliness, I'm thinking of saying ok -- anything I should look out for?

We have a decent relationship with this neighbor and would like to keep it that way. As mentioned, we just paid a pretty penny to put up a new fence to replace a 20-year-old one that was rotting and falling over. We prefer the natural wood look, but he neighbor wants to paint the side that faces his house white. I can understand why, as all other fences facing his property are white.

I don't have a huge problem with this, provided the paint job is done well and doesn't seep through. But I'm curious if there are issues I should consider before allowing one side of a fence to be pained, while retaining the bare wood on the other side. Will it cause the fence to age differently? If he moves out, will we need to maintain his paint job to keep the integrity of the fence up to snuff, or is paint simply an aesthetic issue?

Also, how do we politely ask him to ensure that the paint job is done well? He has a history of doing some DIY stuff on his property (including painting), that is, uh, very amateurish and slapdash looking. I am not interested in paying half for a professional paint job.

TL;DR -- neighbor wants to paint his side of our fence. Anything I should look out for, and how do I make sure it's done decently without coming off as a jerk?
posted by GorgeousPorridge to Home & Garden (44 answers total)
I would say no. It's kind of a strange request if you ask me. If he wants a white fence he can get his own, on his own property. Since you say he's got a history of sloppy DIY projects, I wouldn't trust him to get your expensive, brand new fence right. I don't think you can really say "Only if you do a good job" without it being awkward. And of course he's going to promise to do a good job, regardless of his ability to deliver on that promise.
posted by blackzinfandel at 6:10 AM on February 6, 2017 [30 favorites]

Are you prepared to pay for it to be re-painted once he lets it fall into disrepair, moves away in three years and your new neighbors are furious that you have a dilapidated paint job on YOUR fence facing their property?

I strongly vote no. Tell him that the installer recommended keeping the wood unpainted (just waterproofed).
posted by splen at 6:14 AM on February 6, 2017 [25 favorites]

You could say yes on the condition that it's done by a contractor of your choosing and he pays the full cost. Or just saying no is fine.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:21 AM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'd say no just for the strong chance of unsightly drips of paint all over your side of the fence. And there are weird questions like: does he get to paint the top and edges of the pickets? Where suddenly your fence will be weirdly white in splotches?

FWIW, as blackzinfandel says, it's pretty common where I live to have two fences abutting each other, so each house can get the kind of fence they want to see in their yard. This is the typical fix.
posted by Andrhia at 6:23 AM on February 6, 2017 [21 favorites]

I'd say no as well. I live in the land of privacy fences and you don't paint them. That's just asking for maintenance trouble. And you'll see white overpaint on the edges every time you look at your side of the fence.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:25 AM on February 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I definitely l would agree to let him paint it. You could let him know your concerns about quality, which are reasonable, but given this fence is a massive structure affecting his living space he should have the right to make it more appealing for himself. In our city one must obtain a city permit to put up a fence and it must have the nicer side on your neighbor's side, not the other way around. I think it's an awesome requirement.
posted by waving at 6:59 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your fence, your property, your say.
posted by watercarrier at 7:03 AM on February 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Have you checked with the people who installed your fence about what (if anything) the wood has been treated with? Some wood treatments do not hold paint well. I would do that before even considering painting it.

(My own opinion, were I in your shoes, would be to say no, based on it being entirely on your property and you paid for the whole thing.)
posted by gudrun at 7:07 AM on February 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is weird and controlling, in my opinion. I would not agree to this but you seem much nicer than I am. What's the fence look like? If it's truly a privacy fence and is pretty much almost solid-looking like a wall, I would let him have someone professionally paint it. If it's more of a picket or staggered wood look, him painting just the front of each piece is going to look weird from his side, and he will still see a LOT of wood. Whatever you decide, please get it in writing in advance and make it very very clear to him exactly what he is allowed and not allowed to paint.

I don't see any problems with the fence aging differently on both sides. As far as what you need to maintain if new people move in, the answer is nothing. It's your fence. They can plant hedges in front of it if they don't like it, or you can tell them, too, that they can paint their side.
posted by the webmistress at 7:13 AM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yes, you should let him paint his side white if he pays for 50% of the fence. That is typically how things work if he wants to have design input into the fence.
posted by nanook at 7:15 AM on February 6, 2017 [28 favorites]

Another consideration: If the boards are cedar, it's really hard to keep the oil from seeping through white paint.
posted by HotToddy at 7:26 AM on February 6, 2017

Definitely a no vote here. You are buying all kinds of future trouble if you let your neighbour do that.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:27 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Our neighbour installed a massive cedar privacy fence around her back yard, built on her side of the property line. While she doesn't paint it she does have a company come in every year and pressure-wash and treat it with stuff so it keeps that newly-installed cedar look. The stuff always drips to the back side of the fence, which means the side facing us looks all weird and blotchy. I just put up with it because it is her fence, I don't want to do yearly treatments on our side of the fence, and I'm too cheap to put up a second fence on our side to hide her ugly fence.

I would say no. White paint is only going to look worse than what our neighbour does.

If he doesn't like it he can put a fence up on his side.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:27 AM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

This won't work well unless you find an 80-year-old genius artisan painter.

Maybe the neighbor could put up another white fence line in front of the natural cedar?

Maaaybe it could work if you (based on my limited experience painting things):

- agree that only the flat face of the fence slats will be painted, not the cross pieces, and not the edges. Seriously, think through each component of the fencing and each face of those components and decide what color each will be and _how_ to accomplish that without getting white paint where it shouldn't go;

- treat the entire fence with a protective stain/finish, to mitigate the tendency of the wood to just absorb the white paint coat like a sponge;

- apply masking tape (lots of professionals, even, will want to skip this step -- but it's your fence, the white paint won't come off ever, you should insist) to the top and side edges of each slat of the fence to keep the white paint off;

- paint around the edges of the masking tape with another coat of the natural finish/protectant -- this is how you keep the white paint from seeping under the edge of the masking tape;

- after that's mostly dried, apply the white coat very delicately with a roller only to those faces where it's supposed to go. Don't overpaint the masking tape too much.

- agree, in writing, that this is the procedure to be followed every time the fence is re-painted. Agree in writing that the neighbors will replace any piece of the fence where white paint goes beyond the parts specified.

- Agree in writing that anyone who buys or owns the house after your neighbor will also follow these procedures. Agree in writing how this information is going to be preserved and conveyed.

- Agree in writing that if cross-pieces are adversely affected (paint splatter, drips, etc.) they will be replaced.

- Agree in writing to the standards expected in replacing fence pieces: grade of lumber, treatment/pre-treatment, whether small splits in the wood are tolerated or just mean the entire piece should be replaced (which happens when amateurs work with wood, especially cedar), how identical the shape of the replacement piece should be, whether it will be fastened with nails or screws, how many, how straight the slat has to be, etc.

- Other stuff that I can't think of off the top of my head.

Finally, if this doesn't work out, maybe your neighbor could be persuaded that, color-wise and viewed from a distance, it's not that different from no fence? Maybe it could even blend into the environment more if it were made a darker natural wood color?
posted by amtho at 7:41 AM on February 6, 2017

No, but refer him to your fencing contractor should he want to purchase white fencing for his side.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:56 AM on February 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

He should just plant stuff on his side of the fence that obscures it. More fun than painting!
posted by mareli at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

The fence you paid for will end up looking like shit on your side. Guaranteed.
And once it's fucked up, that expensive fence is all the way fucked up and the neighbor will not pay to fix it. Your fence, your choice.

Politely decline and suggest they build their own fence on their own side.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:29 AM on February 6, 2017 [18 favorites]

There is no good way to do this. If he is very careful, he will still be seeing a lot of bare wood, and if he is not very careful, you will both be seeing a crappy looking mix of white and wood. If it's like a lot of fences it's also going to develop minor longitudinal cracks in the pickets, which looks fine on wood but will look like hammered shit on white paint.
posted by ftm at 8:31 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

One question: is the white fencing he's seeing currently actually wood that's painted, or is it that plastic stuff that's going to be yucky and un-fixable in a few years? Because if it's plastic, then he may have unrealistic expectations for how painted wood fencing will look.
posted by amtho at 9:16 AM on February 6, 2017

He could have pickets of his choice professionally pre-painted and installed on his side of your fence, at his cost, with a written agreement that maintenance to those pickets shall be by contractors approved by you and paid for by him. Each time those pickets are repainted they must be removed, painted, and reinstalled.

Otherwise he is free to erect his own fence on his property. Do not allow his preferences about your property to become your ongoing problem.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:20 AM on February 6, 2017

Agree in writing that anyone who buys or owns the house after your neighbor will also follow these procedures. Agree in writing how this information is going to be preserved and conveyed.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'd be very skeptical of written agreements that are supposed to convey with the house when it's sold. Unless an actual lawyer tells you otherwise, I think you'd be smart to assume that any agreement you make with the current owner will end when and if he sells the house, and you should be prepared to live with the consequences of that.
posted by primethyme at 9:45 AM on February 6, 2017

Painting one side of wood will certainly force it to cup over time. Regardless, your property, your fence.

The question begged now, how will you maintain the other side of the fence without trespassing on your neighbors property?
posted by humboldt32 at 9:47 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster:
Painting one side of wood will certainly force it to cup over time. Regardless, your property, your fence.

Can someone tell me more about this? If I refuse permission, it would be nice to have a reason instead of just saying "I don't trust you'll do a good job so get your own fence." He's otherwise a good neighbor and I don't want to sour the relationship. I think having a legit reason for not wanting it painted might be helpful.
posted by GorgeousPorridge at 9:55 AM on February 6, 2017

How do the existing fences on his property look? Has he maintained them, and do they look good? If they look good, maybe consider just painting both sides of the fence. You buy the paint, and he paints both sides?
posted by cnc at 10:01 AM on February 6, 2017

I may have spoken too quickly:
posted by humboldt32 at 10:08 AM on February 6, 2017

I mean... if the fence wasn't there he would be able to see into your yard, right? And you probably would not agree to keep your yard according to your neighbor's preferences just because he can see it. Part of being a property owner is accepting that you have little control what your neighbor does with their property.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:12 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

The answer is no. It opens up a lot of potential for trouble later you don't want.
Two other thoughts: I was told to wait a few years before putting any paint/stain on because the wood needed to dry a bit.
When informing neighbors, you don't have to give a reason. "Sorry, that won't work for us." If needed, talk vaguely about insurance or blame it on your fence installers, "they said that's a bad idea."
Ditto what others said: if he wants a certain look, he can put up his own fence.
posted by papergirl at 10:16 AM on February 6, 2017 [7 favorites]

I agree with papergirl to just say you talked to the fence installers and they did not recommend it. If you come with specific reasons, your neighbor can always argue with those (i.e. "Of course I'll do a professional looking job, don't worry!). Better to appeal to a vague higher power. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:19 AM on February 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Cupping, I believe, has to do with the natural tendency of the wood to curl and warp over time. On an unpainted fence the wood weathers fairly evenly on both sides. So the warping tends to balance out and keep the planks relatively straight. With only one side protected by paint, the wood will weather only on one side and will warp more.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:53 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

If needed, talk vaguely about insurance or blame it on your fence installers, "they said that's a bad idea."

"Painting it will void the warranty."
posted by Thorzdad at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2017 [18 favorites]

While I'm all for being neighborly, I'd say this is a case where there are enough question marks to say no; you just don't know that the paint job won't screw up your fence, and it'll become your problem if it is painted. Even if you have some sort of written agreement in place, you'll have to bring in courts/lawyers to enforce it if things go south, so it'd be your problem one way or another. I think Thorzdad has the right idea with "Painting it will void the warranty" or otherwise blaming the fencing contractors. Let them build their own fence on the other side of the property line if they want it.
posted by Aleyn at 1:00 PM on February 6, 2017

Giving someone a reason gives them something to argue against, something for them to hook on to.

"I'm sorry, but I've decided not to." And smile politely. You're not required to give any reasons, and he's out of line if he presses.

What happens when he doesn't like your window treatments or that thing you have in the back yard?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:07 PM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd say absolutely not and give the "it'll void my warranty with the fence builder" excuse. If he wants all his fencing to match, he can put up his own fence on his property. The risk that it would look messy is just too high. Why spend a fortune on a fence only to have it wrecked by yet another slapdash DIY job by your neighbor?
posted by quince at 2:27 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Noooo. If it was right on the property line, maybe, but if the fence is entirely on your property? No way.
posted by sarcasticah at 5:58 PM on February 6, 2017

Where I live fences are almost always on the property line and shared by both sides, so the idea of one "entirely within your property" sounds weird, and fences finished with different colors on either side are not unusual.

Are we talking one inch, one foot, ten feet?
posted by soylent00FF00 at 6:07 PM on February 6, 2017

Your property.

The answer is: no.

Tell your neighbor to build their own white fence if they so desire.
posted by tgrundke at 6:45 PM on February 6, 2017

No. Then put it in writing. Dear Foo, because we paid for the fence that is on our property, we don't want or permit any alterations to it.

Nothing worse than sleeping in one Saturday and getting up to find your formerly friendly neighbor has painted *his* side of your fence.

Basically GYOFF
posted by BlueHorse at 7:04 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tell him yes, but only if you can paint the side of his house facing yours. Alternatively, tell him no. If it was a property line fence for which he paid his half, then he can do whatever he wants with his side, but since it's not and he didn't, then it's a big old no.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:44 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Last year we painted the sides of fences facing into our garden. In some places we own the fence, and in others (even though it's the same fence) we don't own the fence (just how the new-build house came). We asked the owners of fences beforehand, but wouldn't have expected to be refused (and indeed had not refused a similar request!)

I really wouldn't expect to see two fences next to each other just so you could have one painted and one unpainted.

I'm located in the UK, if that makes a difference and the gardens around us are small.
posted by SuckPoppet at 2:44 AM on February 7, 2017

Defer to the fence installer. You paid big bucks for their work and they will be able to guide you in the appropriate response. Their expert knowledge is part of what you've purchased.
posted by mightshould at 8:19 AM on February 7, 2017

The fence installer has no concern for on-going inter-neighbor relations with the current or future owners of the house next door. That's like asking the plumber how to get the kids to take a bath before bedtime.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:23 AM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really wouldn't expect to see two fences next to each other just so you could have one painted and one unpainted.

There are plenty of two-fence arrangements in my neighborhood.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:35 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Can't speak for other places but in my part of the world (Dallas, Texas) this is a Hard No. It's super weird. And this very well may be cultural. In my cultural experience this is much too forward a request from a neighbor. I would not be worried about souring the relationship, I would be preparing for more boundary-crossing requests from him in the future.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:56 PM on February 7, 2017

I just realized: I'm assuming a kind of fence where there's space between the boards, so painting just one side would involve a lot of decisions about a lot of edges of boards.

However, if the fence is the kind that looks like a solid wall of wood, my thinking is different. First, it's a lot more visible to the neighbor. Second, I'd want to protect that much of an investment, so some kind of surface protective treatment might be a good idea.

However, painting it white becomes even more of a hassle to do right, and even more expensive for your neighbor...
posted by amtho at 5:51 PM on February 8, 2017

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