Fencing your property and dealing with your neighbours. What are your rights and responsibilities and who pays?
Purpose of the Fencing Act
The Fencing Act 1978 was enacted to clearly set out the rights and responsibilities relating to fences between neighbouring properties. This is an area that can cause huge friction between neighbours and may spoil your enjoyment of your new house.
Agreement with your neighbour
Generally, if you want to build a fence on a common boundary, or upgrade an existing inadequate fence, you and the owner of the neighbouring property must go halves on the bill (for a basic fence).
Introduce yourself to the neighbour and be prepared to come up with a realistic proposal. A fence might be needed to serve several purposes Ė privacy, protection from wind and weather, to keep animals in or out, or provide an aesthetic backdrop. Donít expect your neighbour to automatically have the same ideas on taste, or budget.
When you canít agree Ė serve notice
If you canít reach an agreement, you canít just go ahead and put up a fence on the boundary line. You have to follow a process. First, you must serve a notice on your neighbour giving the details of your proposal in writing. The notice must state that it is served under the Fencing Act 1978, and must contain the following:
- Names and addresses of you and the neighbour.
- A description of the fence, where it will go, and who will build it.
- The material and estimated cost and where the materials are to be bought and paid for.
- The date work is to start.
- Advice to the neighbour that they have 21 days to object and make any counter proposals.
- Advice to the neighbour that if they think theyíre not responsible for paying they have to let you know within 21 days giving the reason why and giving the name and address of whoever the neighbour thinks should be responsible.
- Advice to the neighbour that if they donít reply to the notice within 21 days, they will be deemed to have agreed to the proposals and will have to share the cost.
You should sign and date the notice and keep a copy for yourself. You cannot start work during that 21-day period while you await a reply.
If you are the one receiving the notice, and you donít agree with the proposal or donít think itís your responsibility, you can serve a cross-notice (within the 21-day timeframe) giving your reasons. It should also be signed and dated.
If you have trouble preparing either notice, refer to the Fencing Act which can be viewed on thewebsite. Sample notices appear in Schedule 1 of the Act.
Still canít agree?
If you reach a stalemate on notices and cross-notices, your options are then to go to mediation, arbitration, a Disputes Tribunal or the District Court.
Or you can simply build a fence inside the boundary on your own property. But you will have to pay for all of it yourself. And even then, your neighbour could still insist on a boundary fence at a later stage.
Consumer Online also has information about other disputes with neighbours such as unreasonable noise, barking dogs, tree problems, rubbish accumulation, fires, and abandoned cars.
The Fencing Act also stipulates:
- The height of the fence cannot be higher than two metres unless you get a building consent and, normally, planning consent from your local council.
- The fence should be placed on the boundary line. If it is going to go more on one side than the other, this needs to be agreed by the owner of that side. If the owner doesnít agree you can seek a Court order where there is no other practical alternative.
- The Court may authorise you to enter the neighbourís property if this is necessary to build the fence, even if the neighbour is not contributing to the cost of the fence, and vice versa.
- You can pay to make immediate repairs to the fence and recover half the costs from the other neighbour. If it has been destroyed and you need to replace it, it must be replaced with something comparable. But if you are responsible for the damage, for example, you flattened it with your car, you will have to pay to replace or fix it.