How can I cooperate with a neighbor's fence project in the smartest way?
October 22, 2020 9:25 PM   Subscribe

My backyard is fully fenced with a 6' privacy fence, "pretty side" in, fully installed by the previous owner of my house and now fully owned by me. My neighbor wants to make a change, and I'm trying to figure out how to be neighborly and still do what's best for my property. I'm not trying to spend money wantonly, but I want to make the smartest choice for aesthetics and future property value, and if that means sinking some money into the project then so be it.

One section of the fence that separates me and Neighbor X (about 6'-8' in length) was partially damaged by a recent storm - it is still standing but is crooked/leaning and will need to be removed and repaired or replaced. This is a standard wood privacy fence that was professionally installed but is made of fence board like you would get at Home Depot, nothing fancy. It could use a wash and a stain, but it's in sturdy condition (except for that one part) and could be expected to give years more service with minimal effort.

The damage was caused by a huge tree in the neighbor's yard (sitting on the fence line) that uprooted during the recent storm. The uprooting/falling tree knocked this section of the fence out of place. We are sharing the cost of having the root removed, which I am fine with even though the tree was technically on his side -- my half of that cost is relatively low and I am willing to pay that to be neighborly and to get the giant root ball out of my yard. I am prepared to pay to repair the section of my fence, probably can get some friends to fix it for me.

While we are doing this, neighbor X wants to enclose his yard with an 8' privacy fence, which he wants to have installed by a reputable local fence company. He has suggested removing the entire line of fence along our shared property line and replace that with an 8' fence, which he would own and be responsible for maintaining. This would leave me with a 6' "pretty side" fence everywhere around my yard except on that one side, where it would be an 8' "ugly side" fence.

He's going to fence his yard no matter what -- if he doesn't replace my section of fence, he will build an 8' privacy fence on his side, which will leave me with 6' of "pretty side" and 2' of "ugly side" showing above that. And the rest of the fence around my yard will still be 6'. That would look terrible, and if I ever did want to sell the house (no current plans) it would be a problem.

I am, in principle, reluctant to give up control by removing my fence altogether -- yard containment is critical for me because of my dogs, and I don't want to rely on anyone else to ensure that the space is secure.

Assuming that I keep (and repair) the fence on my side, is there some way I could make it taller? Could I keep the existing fence posts and get new, taller fence boards all around? (Do those even come in different sizes?) Could I somehow add 2' of lattice to the top of the 6' fence on all sides? That would cover Neighbor X's additional 2' of height and would raise the height all around to make it uniform on all sides.

I am perfectly happy to have 8' of fence all the way around, just not sure how to achieve that.

Is there some other logical solution to this situation that I'm not seeing?
posted by mccxxiii to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Fence posts may not be strong enough to hold two more feet of solid material, but I think the lattice would be safe enough
posted by flimflam at 9:34 PM on October 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Would it be more agreeable for you to have an 8' tall 'pretty side' fence along the full border with the neighbor? The boards on your fence could be replaced before its all stained. Maybe the neighbor will share that cost with you. You don't mention the length of the fence line, and did the neighbor offer to help with the cost to repair your fence, damaged by his tree?
posted by TDIpod at 9:36 PM on October 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

There isn't any reason a standard vertical board fence can't have two pretty sides; it just increases the cost by 80-90%.

Also verify 8' fences are legal in your area; it's somewhat normal for the maximum height to be 2m/6 or 6.5'
posted by Mitheral at 9:41 PM on October 22, 2020 [18 favorites]

Around here, our zoning prohibits fences beyond 6' unless they are visually permeable like a lattice. Of course, people do things like that all the time and unless someone reports them or the city takes notice, nothing gets done. Could you check to see if it's against your zoning code? If so, you could point out to your neighbor that this could harm their resale or complicate future home sale. I don't know that this is really true of course. Frankly, his rootball and you're helping to pay? You get to repair the fence your way. I'd just repair your fence your way and then don't look back.

Obviously, you know your property but we've got an 8' foot fence on the back of our property that our neighbor did last summer. It's different than my 6' fence that I put in 3 years ago and different than the other side of the yard with a 6' fence. On the front we have chain link on one side (neighbor) and our wood fence up front. I dunno... it's just fences. As long as they are standing up and don't look horrible....I don't think it matters much.
posted by amanda at 9:44 PM on October 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

If he doesn't replace my section of fence, he will build an 8' privacy fence on his side, which will leave me with 6' of "pretty side" and 2' of "ugly side" showing above that. And the rest of the fence around my yard will still be 6'. That would look terrible, and if I ever did want to sell the house (no current plans) it would be a problem.
By all means try to figure out the best thing given your aesthetic preferences and your relationship with your neighbor, but I think you're overestimating the effect of two feet of fence popping up above your own fence on the value of your house.
Is there some other logical solution to this situation that I'm not seeing?
I would fix the broken bit of your fence and let him build his 8 foot fence.
posted by caek at 9:55 PM on October 22, 2020 [28 favorites]

Look into a "good neighbor" fence. That might work for both of you without being too much more expensive.
posted by kdar at 10:15 PM on October 22, 2020 [5 favorites]

This is the particular style of "good neighbor" fencing that I have seen in all of our homes in Northern California. And more here. By alternating how the planks are nailed, you end up with something that is attractive on both sides. It is also common to put the lattice on top to extend the fence from 6' to 8'.
posted by metahawk at 10:48 PM on October 22, 2020 [8 favorites]

One side of our yard has a much taller fence than the others and we had them slope up the last five feet or so of the adjacent sides' boards so it looks integrated. That didn't require additional support structures because it was such a short stretch, and only the last three or so are particularly tall. There's also another side where the neighbor's yard has a fence that's about two feet taller a foot and a half or so away from ours, and it's really no worse than any other evidence of nearby human habitation.
posted by teremala at 4:55 AM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Repair your fence, put 2' of lattice on top of the whole length of it and start some ivy. In a couple years you won't even know there's another fence just beyond it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on October 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

My backyard is fully fenced with a 6' privacy fence, "pretty side" in

You may want to check your local building codes - in many places in the US, you are not allowed to build a fence with the "pretty side" in.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:28 AM on October 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

You may want to verify how close the neighbor's fence will be to your fence. Leaves and other debris can get caught in the space between the fences and start rotting both.
posted by nanook at 6:25 AM on October 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Your neighbor's tree caused damage. Why are you having difficult decisions? His insurance should be paying for repairs.

You have a fence. get it fixed. Let him do what he wants on his side. Check to see if an 8' fence is legal.
posted by theora55 at 7:14 AM on October 23, 2020 [5 favorites]


is a complete sentence.

nthing theora55. If that happened to me I'd expect the neighbor's insurance to promptly pay for tree removal and fence repair to the pre-tree damage design. Also, neighbor's property has other sides with other neighbors. Do those other 2 or 3 other neighbors want an 8 foot fence? Do you want neighbor to be shopping an 8 foot fence to his other neighbors as "It's ok with mccxxiii, what's your problem?" and drawing you into any disagreement with them?
posted by jointhedance at 8:59 AM on October 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Keep your fence, fix the broken part, and let your neighbor build whatever he wants for a fence. If an 8' fence is not legal, he will have to go shorter and you have no problem to solve. If it is legal, I agree with other commenters that you are overestimating the hypothetical eventual home sale problems that would be caused by his extra 2' of fence height on one side.

I am sensing that the asymmetry is perhaps what bothers you the most, but you can you can soften the effect with greenery and other outdoor decor tricks. I think it's serious overkill to extend your fence up to 8" all around. Just make the exposed 2' of his fence look pretty from your side of the yard.

You can attach a couple of feet of lattice and grow something vining (ivy is not actually a good choice, but a nursery can help you out.) Or, an easier-to-maintain solution from a gardening perspective may be to install a row of windowbox-like containers at the top of your fence planted with taller plants that will fill out nicely and include some evergreen types.
posted by desuetude at 9:17 AM on October 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

If you live in a subdivision with an HOA, do a very careful check of what are known as "CC&Rs" (aka "the rules). Look for restrictions on height of fence. A limit of 6' is very common.

If you do find rules like this, you could take a neighborly approach of "I didn't know if you were aware of these restrictions. I'd hate for you to invest all that money only to have to remove the fence."

The latter point is a bit of "smoke and mirrors" in that different HOAs take a different view of violations. Some will be hard-ass and require removing the offending fence. Others will be ho-hum.

Absent any rules to rely on, your best bet might be to deal with the asymmetry per desuetude's suggestions.
posted by John Borrowman at 9:43 AM on October 23, 2020

Great answers all around, thank you! For clarification:

There is no HOA. i will look into the law around fence height, but I don't mind an 8' barrier and would not complain to anyone about it ... it's just the asymmetry/ugliness that worries me.

That said, I fully admit that I might be making too big a deal of that.

I don't mind paying to repair my fence. I have the means to do so, and neighbor already took a huge hit on other storm damage, no need to add to his burden at this point.

My fence was there when I bought the house, so I don't know why it was built pretty-side in -- I didn't make that decision and there's nothing to be done about it now.

He has only one other fence-neighbor (someone I don't know) and I don't know if they have discussed the 8' issue. I do not share a property line with the other person.

I love the idea of using greenery to block the 2' of fence that might be sticking up, that would actually look pretty and be a fun project!!
posted by mccxxiii at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Personally I don't buy the whole "pretty side/ugly side" thing and have bought two homes with "ugly side" fencing showing along part of the fence run. "Ugly side" is the side that's easiest for someone to climb over. I'm happy to have that side on the inside of my property rather than the outside!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:59 PM on October 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

> I love the idea of using greenery to block the 2' of fence that might be sticking up, that would actually look pretty and be a fun project!!

Yeah, I think you could make lemonade out of lemons and turn it into something really neat. For example, ask your neighbor if it's okay to tap some little nails into "your" side of his fence and use them to install a string of outdoor lights -- they'll glow very prettily behind the greenery.
posted by desuetude at 7:20 PM on October 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I was looking at building our fence, I seem to recall that while 4x4" posts (4 feet deep to not be disturbed by frost in my location) were fine for 6' tall fences, beyond that one would need 6x6" posts. So to have an equally tall 8' fence, you'd need to have the existing posts+concrete footers removed, and new ones sunk for the new posts (I.E. you couldn't/shouldn't just build up from your existing posts). And then you have a fence that's 8' on one side, and 6' on all of the others. Or you're tearing out all of your fence and putting in a new 8' fence.

We have a 6' fence, and recently the neighbours behind us put in an 8' privacy fence. Yes, we see it, and we get a bit of a kick out of what we're calling their spite fence. But as we have a pool we need to keep our yard fenced, so removing the one fence side isn't an option. You quickly get used to it.

If you did try to have an even-height fence, what if your neighbours fence ends up being 8'1" and yours is actually 7'11" ? Will that 2" of fence bother you, especially given the costs to fully replace one (or all) side(s) of the fence?

Be aware of the amount of space that gets lost to greenery that effectively blocks the fence. We have mature pyramidal cedars alone one side of our fence (that faces an alley), and we lose about 5' of yard space for our 50' wide property. I.E. 10% of our back yard is those cedars. Given our pool, and that the other side of the fence is an alley I really like the cedars, but if it were another neighbour, I'd be a bit tempted to remove them for more yard.

If I were looking to buy, I'd be happy to see the giant fence, whether it's on the neighbour's side, or my side, or both. Pretty much everyone has heard the phrase, good fences make good neighbours.

TLDR, I think that you're overthinking both looking at the non-pretty side, and the different height fences.
posted by nobeagle at 6:41 AM on October 26, 2020

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