When I was growing up, some of the neighborhoods we lived in had no fences between the properties.  In Florida, we’d race along the back yards over to the canal where we would catch tadpoles in big jars to take home and watch the weird transformation from ball-with-a-tail to frog.  There was a huge parcel of empty land behind us where I’d go to dig holes and cover them with weeds, thinking I could trap something – I was always disappointed since I never caught a thing. 

 Today, fences are de rigueur in most places and can sometimes cause a real ruckus in a neighborhood.

 There’s a city nearby, where the neighbors have been feuding for years about a fence that is too tall.  The rule is not much enforced in the city except when a neighbor complains.  So a neighbor complains and the people with the illegal fence sue the city about the disparity – other properties have high fences but the city doesn’t go after them.  Litigation goes on for awhile, heads roll and the city has to pay a large penalty.

Down the street from us, a new buyer for a home on a semi-busy street put up a 6’ fence all around their front yard.  2 months later that fence is cut in half because its illegal to have a 6’ fence right on the line between your lawn and the sidewalk…doh!

 Its not that hard to find out what fence regulations are.  Many cities have the information on their websites and handouts available at the Building Department.  Plus its still possible to get an answer the old-fashioned way – by making a phone call 😉

Kentucky by oops_christine at http://www.photobucket.com

A client is adding an addition to their house, stretching towards the back fence.  Zoning Ordinance says that the house must be 15’ from the rear fence and, according to the parcel map, that’s not a problem.  However, when the contractor measures out the footprint of the addition, the fence is encroaching on the property by 1 foot.

Now, we wondered a) will the City inspector require proof of the property line?  b) require the fence be moved?  c) not care?

Rather than take a chance with the inspector, the client opted to have a survey done.   This will prove to the City that the addition is outside the required setback.  Without proof, the addition might have to be reduced by a foot, which doesn’t sound like much but it can be the difference between a nice soaking tub and a boring shower stall.

There have been times when fences are WAAAY off!  Even in regular neighborhoods, like ours, a fence was 3’ off, and not in our favor, either.  We weren’t building a new fence there, so it wasn’t a big deal.  But, we knew that it could become an issue one day if our neighbor did their own addition.  Then they’d redo the fence giving themselves that 3’ and we’d lose some yard.  Oh well.  But, knowing that the discrepancy existed we weren’t going to build or plant anything serious in that 3’ area. 

You might have read in the paper where 2 property owners, let’s call them the Hatfield and Mccoys, each with many acres, were in a dispute about one of the property lines.  This went on for years while they argued and fussed with each other.  At one point, the Hatfields supposedly passed onto the McCoy’s property – just hiking the land they said – and Mrs. McCoy brandished a bb gun at them for trespassing– didn’t point it at them, though.  For this heinous crime (the bb gun brandishing), Mrs. McCoy has to go to jail.  For heaven’s sake, people!  Get surveys!  Get mediation, arbitration, SOMEthing!  Don’t just stew about it.

Back in the old days people were loose and fast with fences, didn’t pay much attention to actual surveys, they mostly just did what seemed right.  Lot corners aren’t always 45% angles and the back property line isn’t always perpendicular to the front property line.  Frequently the only survey done on a property was when it was originally created, maybe 80-90 years ago (or longer), and as fences get replaced these lines get blurred a bit until the encroachment is noticed and the discrepancy fixed.

If you ‘lose’ property when the fence is rebuilt, the property is actually exactly the same; the only change is your perception of the property.  You are still paying for the same amount of land.  And you didn’t own the piece you were enjoying by accident.

On the other hand, if the fence is wrong in your favor, you can fix it!  You are paying property taxes on that land without getting to use it.

How much is a survey?  Recently, one of our clients paid $1000 for having the  property lines located.  If you want the survey recorded officially at the County, then there are other fees for that – our area is around $700 for those.

If a neighbor is unhappy, then we suggest that each property owner hire a different surveyor to help resolve the issue.  Maybe hire a third-party to help mediate if things get really sticky. 

http://www.obviousdiversion.com This fence transforms into a picnic table, counter and seat!

If you feel the need to check your property lines (Don’t get all bent out of shape, now.  Most of the time its not going to be a big deal!)  here’s some help in getting started:

Get a copy of your Assessors Parcel Map.  This can be found at the County.  If you go to the Planning Department, they might give you a cc or your County might have them online, like mine does.  You can search for your property and print the map.  You can do a quick and dirty measurement of your property and see if this is something you need to pursue. 

If the Planning Department can’t (or won’t) give you a copy, then go to the County Recorder’s Office and ask for one.

The County Recorders Office might have a Record of Survey for your property, too.  Don’t assume anything, though.  Some ROS are really old and might not be much help.  For instance, Willow Glen, in our area, was its own little town and then was incorporated into San Jose.  Prior to becoming part of San Jose, property owners owned to the center of the street.  But when the City took over, they also took over responsibility and ownership for the street, so the parcels got smaller. 

Romania, either Rick or I took this picture. I was fascinated by the meticulous detail put into all the gates and fences.

You’ll also need to find out from your local Building Department how a property is defined.  Sometimes its to the street or to the sidewalk or not even to the sidewalk.  That way, you’ll know where to begin your measurements.

Take it easy 😉