Thanks to the success of our previous article discussing the CA Good Neighbor Law, we’ve been able to help thousands of homeowners struggling with fence disputes. We’re continuing to receive questions from readers at an exponential rate, and while we can’t get to every single one of them, we’re committed to publishing more informative blog articles to help answer as many questions as possible. The following article will expand even further into CA fence laws and their correlation to property lines.
In this article, we are going to briefly touch on the laws surrounding fences and property lines in the state of California. We will clarify and correct many of the myths floating around out there regarding what is legal or illegal when it comes to your fences. The article will outline the reality of the CA fence laws, the challenges and difficulties associated with them, and the likelihood of them actually being a benefit to you in a real-world court of law.
CA Fence Laws and Property Line Myths
We believe it will be productive to our readers to look at some of the practical issues and the subsequent myths that often are touted as law in forums and Q&A websites by uninformed or uneducated individuals. Here they are:
Myth 1: The division fence, shrubs, or other structure represents the legal boundary between two adjoining properties.
This is one of the more common myths that has been circulating for years. Many property owners have the incorrect belief that a boundary fence, division fence, shrubs, or other structures that seem to be where the property line likely exists will in fact represent the legal boundary line should a dispute arise.
This myth is FALSE!
In fact, this myth is the cause of standard advisories in all residential real estate transactions. These advisories recommend that fences, structures, trees, etc. not be relied upon as the legal boundary line and that the only legitimate and legal way to locate said boundary line is through a survey.
Yet, to truly protect yourself from losing any future dispute we believe you must even take additional steps. After the survey is completed, you should file the survey with the county your property resides in and preferably have your neighbor agree to it in writing. If your neighbor instead chose to hire a surveyor of his own, once again you’ll have trouble holding up the accuracy of your initial survey versus their survey in a court of law. Surveying is in no way an absolute science and there are often many subjective interpretations and determinations being made.
Myth 2: CA State law requires certain aesthetic standards when constructing a fence.
This myth is characterized as a belief that when building boundary fences, or any fence for that matter, that the style is one of a “good neighbor” fence.
A term that will be seen quite often throughout this entire website is “good neighbor” fences. These fences differ in design from that of a basic nail-up flat top or dog-ear fence. The basic fences consist of 2 or 3 2″x4″ rails connected between posts and the fence pickets nailed or screwed up to the rails. This construction technique while very cost-effective leaves what many homeowners would describe as an “ugly side” in which the rails are exposed.
On the other hand, a “good neighbor” fence is constructed with a sandwich-type technique where the fence pickets are held in place by 1″x1″ or even 1″x4″. This style of fence also usually uses a kickboard at the bottom which is pressure treated like the posts. This style of construction looks “good” or the same from both sides and is also a much sturdier and well-built fence versus the more basic styles we just described.
Examples of Good Neighbor/ Not Good Neighbor Fences
This myth is often brought up due to the fear of one of the property owners ending up with the “ugly side” towards their property.
This myth is also FALSE!
While CC&R’s, agreements, and local ordinances may call for a specific style fence, there is no law in CA that does so.
While a good neighbor fence is a little more costly, it ensures both neighbors are equally satisfied, therefore it is often a wise choice from the beginning.
Myth #3: If a property owner acquiesces to the placement of a fence, the fence becomes the new property line.
This myth is in reference to the doctrine of agreed boundary (follow this link to read more in detail) which is still a valid theory in California, although one that is often very hard to establish. The doctrine, in summary, states that if a property owner agrees to the placement of a fence encroaching on his/ her property, that the fence will then become the valid property line.
It requires three components.
- There must be a dispute over the boundary line or at the very least some uncertainty as to its exact location.
- There must be an agreement between parties to erect a new fence or leave one in place and consider that the property line.
- The last component, which causes most of the difficulty in establishing this doctrine, is there must be an inability to establish the property line by any other means. This refers to being able to establish boundary lines by a more precise method such as a survey.
The burden of proving all these components is placed upon the party who wishes to establish the fence as the legal boundary line.
Therefore while we can’t exactly say this is a myth, it is unlikely to take place.
This legal theory does remain in California yet is becoming increasingly disfavored due to the fact that today there are more viable options to finding the boundary line such as a more precise survey. Next up we have the last myth regarding CA fence laws and property lines!
Myth #4: The boundary between two properties is represented by the fence since the fence has been in place for so long.
This myth states that the long standing presence of a fence between two residential properties allows one homeowner to assume the fence represents the boundary line. This prescriptive easement has been acquired as a result of the encroachment of the fence. This was once true, but California law in the mid-1990’s laid this myth to rest.
This Myth is FALSE!
California law does not recognize prescriptive easement in this context nor does it recognize adverse possession due to the inability to prove that taxes have been paid by the encroaching property owner. There are however some other possible easement theories that may provide a legal basis for retaining any land that has been fenced in but they are more often than not extremely disfavored by the courts. In addition to that, all of them would require a lawsuit to establish.
Now that we touched on many of the myths surrounding CA fence laws and property lines, let us know in the comments section below what topic you would like us to write about next. Also if you have any questions regarding this article, please ask us below!