Whose Fence is it Anyway? How to Resolve Fence Problems with Your Neighbor

Living in a city often means living in tight spaces. Portland is no different, especially with the possibility of an increase in additions and new construction, thanks to the city’s new Residential Infill Project (RIP).

Homeowners install fences on their properties for a variety of reasons: to keep pets and children safe, to serve as a tidy perimeter for landscaping, and to maintain privacy. It’s been said that good fences make good neighbors, but fences can also cause antagonism when disputes between neighbors arise over property boundaries.

Here, we’ll sort through Oregon fence laws and local codes and restrictions and offer some useful tips for resolving fence conflicts peacefully.

What Causes Fence and Boundary Conflicts Between Neighbors?

Previous negotiation—Your neighbor may have negotiated with the previous owner of your new home to install a fence slightly inside your property line. (For more information on the legalities of this and whether you have any recourse, see #2 below.)

Incorrect survey—Sometimes, despite having taken the steps to ensure proper fence location, mistakes can occur. This can be due to human error of equipment malfunction.

Unintended boundary crossing—Your neighbor may have taken steps to locate the boundaries between your properties yet unknowingly crossed into yours because they got a faulty survey report or because they attempted to “eyeball” the boundary.

So, what should you do if you encounter one of these scenarios?

Three Steps for Neighbor Fence and Boundary Resolution

  1. Be neighborly

    Avoid assuming your neighbor intentionally encroached on your property. If your initial reaction is to get angry, take some time to think through how you’ll broach a conversation of them. Have a plan and stay calm. Likewise, if your neighbor claims you’ve crossed their boundary, be civil and agree to discuss further. Then do some research so you can pick up the dialogue again, armed with all the required information and possible solutions.

  2. Understand the law.

    An important step in preparing to approach your neighbor about boundary violations is to have a firm grasp on laws and regulations involving fencing. To make sure you’ve covered all your bases, check with your HOA, city, or county. Curious on who to talk to? Figure out what jurisdiction you’re in. If you live in the Portland area, go to PortlandMaps.com and put in your address – it will tell you.

    Portland Fence Rules and Regulations

    No one wants to be the neighbor who usurps a piece of their neighbor’s property, so if you’re the one installing a fence, be sure you know the laws in Oregon.

    In general, you can install a fence on your property if it’s within or along the property line. Setbacks determine required distances from property lines for fences and other structures on residential property.

    If your neighbor’s new addition gives them a full view of your back yard, you might want to build a fence high enough to maintain your privacy. Fences over seven feet require a building permit from the City of Portland.

    Aesthetics are subjective. Your neighbor can’t dictate your style and color choices, unless, of course, you live in an HOA—then you’ll need to abide by the CC&Rs. But if your fence needs a paint job or is starting to sag or rot, your could get hit with a code violation. For more information, check with the Portland Bureau of Development Services or the governing body in your area.

    If your neighbor hasn’t broken any laws but something about their fence bothers you, you can always attempt to have a civil conversation.

    Adverse Possession: Property Lines in Portland Real Estate

    Sometimes, neighbors make agreements to fudge a little on property boundaries. For example, Neighbor A might need wider side access to their home, or maybe a tree grew along the property line, making it impossible to install a fence. So, Neighbor B might agree to accommodate. The conflict can come down the line when Neighbor B sells the home, and the new purchaser discovers the encroachment when having a land survey done.

    If the fence was installed more than ten years prior, the owner who installed would be protected under Oregon’s law of Adverse Possession. It’s possible to reclaim land from a neighbor, but according to Portland-based real estate attorney Phil Querin, “the principles of adverse possession supersede the survey.” In this case, the property line would need to be adjusted to reflect the current use of the land. In Portland, you can accomplish this through a property line adjustment application and a fee.

    Partition Fences = Shared Expenses

    In some cases, neighbors agree to share expenses to install a partition fence directly on the property line. If you’re purchasing a home with such a fence, check with the owner about the agreement with your potential new neighbor. Be aware than in this case, you’ll be responsible for half the cost for painting and repairs.

  3. Get help.

    In addition to issues around fences, conflict between neighbors can also arise from trimming a neighbor’s tree and building structures up against the property line. If don’t get far with a friendly conversation, you may want to seek out the help of a mediator. Below are some contacts for Portland and surrounding areas.

    Portland – Neighborhood Mediation Services – They can connect you with a trained local mediator to either give you tools to solve the issue on your own or set up a mediated conversation with your neighbor.

    Beaverton and parts of Washington County – Center for Mediation and Dialogue

    Gresham and East metropolitan Portland – East County Resolutions – a free source for mediation services. 

If your neighbor is unwilling to try and resolve your fence or boundary issue, even in the presence of a mediator, the next step may be a lawsuit. Contact a local attorney who specializes in real estate law.

Work with a Top Real Estate Agent

Why are we writing articles about fences? Licensed since 2003, and having overseen 2,000 plus home sales in that time frame, I’ve come across a fence problem a time or two. We write to assist the public on real estate market issues. Nothing is worse that finding out there is a boundary issue in the middle of a home sale. It is best to get these things resolved in advance of putting your home on the market. If you’d like to talk with an experienced real estate agent today, chat with our bot or just call us direct. We’d love to talk with you.

October 11, 2021

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

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