Fence etiquette questions

girlcat36December 8, 2012

Need some advice....
My neighbor has installed approximately 140 feet of 6 foot vinyl privacy fence.
She informed us that she would be installing it, and it would be WELL into her yard and wouldn't bother us a bit. This meant it would be on the other side of the evergreens and rhododendrons that I planted 15 years ago.
That was fine, since I wouldn't have to see much of it. I am not a fan of plastic(or white) fences.

The fence company would not install the fence without a survey of the property line, and once the survey was completed to our surprise the property line was 15 feet further into my yard than I realized. That's all fine, though because she said would never ask us to move our mixed border of plantings, she said. She knows I am an avid gardner and keep a pretty yard.

So I'm getting used to the idea of losing some yard(technically not mine anyway) as long as I don't have to look at white plastic.

A few weeks later, she tells us that the fence will be installed one foot into her property from the property line. It was June and she told me I had three weeks to move what I could move. This also meant that I would have to stare at naked white vinyl fence. And the worse part-----the fence would cut diagnolly across my backyard.
So I lost all my rhododrens because I couldn't move them, and all my evergreens.
I didn't have anywhere prepared for all my plants and shrubs, so they all had to be potted up on the cuff until the fence was installed and I could get a new bed prepared. I was a little annoyed since June/July isn't a great time to be holding plants for transplant, but after the installation I would pop them back in the ground.
Weeks went by and my plants withered in pots....no fence....In late July I went to find out about the fence....oh it could be months, she said; the installer was running behind.

Needless to say, I lost some perennials and shrubs, since they had to sit all summer in pots.
I guess I'm just irked because it went from "I'd NEVER ask you to move your plants because I'm not the kind of neighbor, and the fence would be well into my yard!" to me losing a bunch of plantings and staring at a sea of plastic.
But yes, I do realize it is her property and she can do as she likes. Still stings a bit.

The fence was not installed until October. A great, big, shining wall of 6 foot plastic running from the street diagonally to the rear of my yard. My neighbor had a second fence company come to install it, since the first was a continual no show.
I was also surprised to see that it was installed directly on the property line, not the one foot into her property as I was told. Perhaps the second fence company did not get the memo on one foot into the property?
I'm not pleased, but I have plans for a mixed border heavy on the evergreens, with perennials at the front.
Now the problems.....
I have about 40 bags of leaves that are bagged and waiting for compost. I put them next to the fence temporarily and two days later got a phone call from my neighbor asking me to please move the bagged leaves; she's afraid they could hurt the fence. She said she knows the fence is a very strurdy fence, but she is still afraid the bags of leaves could bow it out.
Ugh. But that's fine, I pulled the leaves away leaving one foot between them and the fence. Is this legally enough room?
I have also begun spreading the leaves as mulch for the new border(lasagna-style gardening), can she tell me I can't have a layer of leaves near her fence?
I also put my small trash barrel shed and an outdoor storage bin one foot from the fence, and I foresee this being a problem. These things are on my property, so what exactly are my rights?
I am also worried about my plans for a mixed border. Since she is afraid of anything 'touching' her fence. How close can I put plantings to her fence, which is smack dab on the property line? I'm a little freaked out that this very nice neighbor is now dictating my plans for that side of my property.

Do I have to maintain my side of the vinyl fence with pressure washings, etc? I know attaching anything to the fence(such as a trellis) is a big no-no, but if I were to put free standing trellises in front of it(such as two posts buried with lattice attached), can she dictate how far from the fence they must be?

I am also worried that the fence was installed under a large scrub pine in my yard that regularly loses good sized branches during storms. Am I correct in that we are responsible for damages from this tree, even though it was already there?

I need a little landscping advice, too. My plan is to create beds that are wider/deeper at the front of my property tapering down to be closer to the fence at the back of the property to off-set that 'triangle' look that I now have going on. Does that make sense? The fence runs north to southwest, and half of it is in part shade, zone 6. I would like to have a lot of evergreens, but nothing superwide as this whole fence thing ate up so much of what I thought was my yard. I will post pics in a bit.

I want to be a good neighbor, what are the fence etiquette rules? What are my rights being on the other side of the fence?

Thanks for any and all advice!

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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

Go to the library or to a book store and purchase Nolo Press' " Neighbor Law".

You might receive some sympathy+ empahy here or just the opposite, so you might as well start doing some legal research .

Text from Amazon. $ 18.00 - I own a copy and it is a very good book.

The book is an an easy-to-read guide on laws concerning common neighbor disputes
Is the noise from next door keeping you up at night? Is the view from your backyard being obstructed? Is a neighboring business driving you crazy? Your home is important to you and your neighbors aren�t going anywhere -- Neighbor Law can help you deal with difficult situations and keep your home life peaceful.

Learn your rights and responsibilities with this clear-cut, comprehensive guide to the laws concerning common neighbor disputes. Learn the law of:

trees and other greenery that crosses the property line
blocked views
water runoff and flooding
interference from nearby businesses
dangers to children ("attractive nuisances")
...and more!
In plain English, Neighbor Law explains how to find applicable laws and resolve disputes without going to court, and explains when the law is on your side and how to deal with your neighbors without creating enemies. And, if you must go to small claims court, you'll find all the facts and stragegies you need.

The 7th edition is completely revised and provides new sample letters for engaging a neighbor over a dispute, and includes expanded information on mediation and dispute resolution. Plus, read new material on how to build community and prevent disputes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Nolo press : neighbor law

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 6:36PM
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Thank you for the heads up on that book! I will be sure to get it!

I want all opinions good or bad, sympathy or non-sympathy.I'd like to see it from both sides. I want to be a good neighbor, but I don't want my neighbor dictating what I can do 'near' her fence if it is not legal for her to do so. as I said, she is a very nice lady and she seems to like us as well, so I just want to be clear on my rights. Although I am irritated by the fence, I am not trying to be 'right', just fair. I guess I'm frustated by the fact that she doesn't garden, and actually cultivates weeds(invasives--honeysuckle, ivy, bittersweet, black locust). She has a small perimeter around her house mowed and the rest is left to grow as weeds. This bothered some neighbors, but seriously didn't bother me since it was her yard.
My trash bags have got nothing on the invasive honeysuckle that she likes that is going to attack her fence. She has no idea what that monster is going to do!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 7:16PM
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It is not illegal for you to put some bags of leaves anywhere on your side of that fence. You can also plant whatever you want on your side and no you do not have to maintain the fence. You should stand up and say you will not tolerate her dictating what you can do on your side of her fence.

You seem to be on the fence with this whole fence thing. On the one side you want to be fair rather than right. And on the other side you enjoy dissing the neighbor and then including the other neighbors in the mix. You need to check with your own municipality to get clear on your rights.

Fifteen feet is a lot of yard to lose. Did you check your own deed/parcel/property data? I would be more worried about that than trying to be fair or right over a fence.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 2:13PM
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Thanks, sasafras
Yes, fifteen feet is a lot of yard to lose(but yes, I know now it wasn't really mine).
There is no ill-will between this neighbor and I. The only reason I know the other neighbors didn't like her weeds is because she told me herself. Actually, she is the only neighbor I speak with on a regular basis. This is in no way a 'neighborhood battle'. She moved in 4 years ago, and is older with no children or husband. So I understand why she is keeping a bare minmum of mowed area. And I even 'get' the weeds, she likes nature and would look forward to what kind of weeds would crop up, and the weeds provided shelter for the bunnies which she liked to see. I used to toss my weed and flower seed heads in her yard (with her permission, of course) to give her a little variety. At her age, she doesn't want a heck of a lot of maintenence. I usually bring her a plant once or twice a year(and plant it for her).
I guess I seem on the fence about this whole thing because I really like this woman, she has been a very good neighbor and just all around nice person. I just want to be careful about what and where I place my new plantings so there are no issues or conflicts.

I think I'm coming off as bratty right now because I'm pretty serious about my yard, and this is the first time I've really felt restricted in anyway.

I think the survey is probably correct. She paid a lot of money for it(900.00 for just that one side), and I was home while the survey was being so I saw the whole thing.
If I really wanted to be be a pain(and I don't!) I would have looked into adverse possession.....I have been using and maintaining that 15 feet of property for the last 17 years with the full knowledge of the two previous owners(who also thought it was my yard).

    Bookmark   December 9, 2012 at 3:49PM
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I know that if I suddenly lost 15' of property that myself and others thought I owned for the past 17 years, I'd investigate the property line location as best I could on my own (using prior records) or consider having a surveyor verify the line location. ... the reason being that surveyors are human and can make mistakes. I know when I've had my own properties surveyed that the new work sometimes shows errors (relatively minor ... a few inches) of the old work. It's always puzzled me how surveying seems not as precise as I would have thought it to be. And that the newest work seems to reign as being somehow magically more mistake-free than previous work. If you're resigned to accepting the new survey as correct, so be it.

That the neighbor is placing the fence AT the line surprises me. Usually it's set back just a little, how much would most likely be determined by the local controlling authority. I'd check on this issue just to make sure that the fence doesn't need a little clearance from the line. It might be that code requires a set-back. If there is anything to be done about it, then the time to do it is without delay. Delay implies acceptance which makes changes later more difficult, or impossible.

That the fence company demanding a survey is not the same company installing the fence after a passing of time seems as if an error could be made more easily. This is just another reason to verify survey claims. Neither would I accept that this is a $900 cost. I'd make calls to a few surveyors and inquire to find out what the "ball park" cost is since the loss of a fair amount of property might be worth paying a bit for.

I wouldn't consider it neighborly if a neighbor stacked anything against the back side of my fence. Given that all of my fence would be on my property (so long as it's on my side of the line) then anything stacked against it couldn't help but be on my property, too (another reason to set the fence back a few inches just to make sure it's on one's own property.) Something stacked against or pressing on the fence could cause damage or soiling. By the same token, I would consider planting as I wished on my own property (... probably carry on my love for English ivy!)

While you might get useful advice about "etiquette" here, that's not really what you need. You need legal advice in order to get answers to some of your questions. The book mentioned above will probably be helpful, but you MAY need advice specific to your locality. Start with the book and go from there.

If the fence turns out to be on neighbor's property--or you accept it as such-- then I'd be careful not to behave in any way that would appear as if you didn't accept it. Doing so could be the start of neighbor unfriendliness and possibly later, "war." It's not fun to be stuck next to someone that you develop unkind feelings for or vice versa ... especially since it started out that you have a good relationship with, and like, this neighbor.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 12:41AM
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Thank you for your response Yaardvark. I think I am okay with the survey, and am resigned to losing a good portion of my yard that was not mine to begin with! I'm trying to look at the positives.....there will be a lot less lawn to mow, and all the Japanese honeysuckle is now on her side of the fence.
Getting my entire yard surveyed as soon as I have some money freed up for it is at the top of my list! I need to know now how far back the REAR of my property goes(another ambiguous area) because I will try to make up for the loss of the side by expanding the rear. I am hoping to eke out room for a small greenhouse.

I think you are correct in the assumption that the second fence company may not have considered setback and simply put the fence where the surveyer's stakes were. I may call the fence company.

While I would never stack anything against my neighbor's fence, I did place the bagged leaves(not stacked atop each other!) NEXT to the fence. This was probably visible underneath the fence and was perhaps too close for comfort, they have been pulled a foot away from the fence. Needless to say, everything will be placed at least a foot away from now on.

I guess my big deal is that I don't want the fence visible in my yard since I prefer a naturalized look. I want to put everything as close as legally possible to the fence since it ate up such a large area. The fence is closer to my house than hers. I would have preferred to be able to have had a wood fence that could have trellising attached(though I realized she might not have given permission for that!), and be easily disguised with vertical plantings.

I just want to make sure that I am only doing what I am legally entitled to, since both my husband and I really do like this woman and she is a good neighbor and don't want any hard feelings!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 9:57PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Wait! -- this is a vinyl fence? What's wrong with stacking stuff against it, or piling mulch up over the bottom part, or erecting a vine trellis in front (your side) of it? It's not going to rot.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 8:38AM
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"... the second fence company may not have considered setback and simply put the fence where the surveyer's stakes were. I may call the fence company." It would be better to call the code enforcement department to find out what the exact rules regarding setback are, and then, if there is violation, to call the fence owner. Since the fence company is not working for you, they would not be interested in what you have to say.

"... this is a vinyl fence? What's wrong with stacking stuff against it, or piling mulch up over the bottom part, or erecting a vine trellis in front (your side) of it?" Usually, things piled up would apply pressure and over time could bow the fence. Certainly, things placed against it would soil it over time. Mulch touching the bottom would probably not be an issue, but piled up, it would. A trellis placed adjacent--not touching--would not be an issue. But one could not attach anything to the neighbor's fence. (These are all good reasons for setting the fence back from the property line.) There are times when the rules are not rigidly enforced, but it would depend on the people and situations involved.

While it might be unsettling to get used to changes that are made against one's will, it will probably turn out that you can make lemonade out of the lemons (your perception) you've been given. A nice fence is not the worst thing in the world to have surrounding one's yard and it's very likely that you will be able to incorporate landscaping that helps the fence become an asset to you. No, it doesn't add more space, but as a feature, it can still be useful and attractive. It's a design opportunity.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 9:57AM
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Thanks for your response, Yardvaark. I will look upon this as a design opportunity, and yes---there are worse things I could be dealing with, so I'll figure it out!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 10:51AM
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