Elbow room is hard to come by these days. Daniel Boone was looking for a bit more of it when he headed West after the Revolutionary War. These days, people are moving to the cities and suburban life but still want that elbow room when they look out their back window. Where their elbow room stops, and their neighbor’s elbow room begins is, not surprisingly, a flashpoint of anger and bad blood.

Neighbors often start off neighborly. They may go over for a barbeque on a Sunday afternoon or grumble about the high HOA fees while watering their lawns. But when a Texas tornado, hail, and high winds blow the shared fence down, the BBQ prongs are dropped and the pitchforks come up.

One neighbor thinks they should split the costs of putting in the new fence. One may want to go as cheap as possible on the fencing supplies. One neighbor wants to do it himself, and the other has seen his work and is adamant on hiring a professional contractor. If it’s six inches over the boundary line, one neighbor thinks the other should have to pay the entire bill. And if the fence is crooked and a neighbor loses two inches of prime real estate….it was obviously done on purpose because the other neighbor had been coveting those two inches from the very beginning. Clearly.

Building a shared fence is not something neighbors should approach lightly. Approach it like you would any other business and your neighborly friendship will last long after the fence is up.

A few easy things to do at the beginning:
1. Put it in writing. It may sound formal, it may feel awkward for you to go to your neighbor of ten years and say “Hey, that conversation we had about building the fence the other night? I put it in writing. Willing to sign it before we start?” You may get a few odd stares but do it anyway.
2. Consult your HOA agreement and approving committee. A lot of HOA communities require fences to be constructed to exact measurements, down to the number of inches the post holes have to be dug. Keep the HOA committee in the loop and you won’t have added expenses down the road redoing everything.
3. Finally, talk with your neighbor about your concerns. If you want things done a certain way with the fence, TELL YOUR NEIGHBOR. Don’t let it boil up inside you. Tell your neighbor and if they don’t agree, take it to your HOA. Look at it from your neighbor’s perspective. And if you’re still in the right, call an attorney.

Have a happy summer and many neighborly BBQs …And don’t forget to invite me!

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