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Fences – Shared Fencing Costs 

By Taylor Baumann 
Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP 

Under California law, landowners and their adjoining 
neighbors are jointly responsible for constructing, 
maintaining, and replacing fences that divide their 
properties. While the legislature recently enacted 
some procedural changes to the law under the Good 
Neighbor Fence Act of 2013, the spirit of the original 
law remains the same. 

Eligible Fences and Landowners 

Adjoining landowners share equal responsibility for 
“division fences”- fences on the boundary line 
between two properties, that physically lie on both 
owners’ properties. The law does not apply to fences 
that are completely within the property of one of the 
two landowners.1 If a fence is located on the land of 
only one landowner, the neighbor is not legally 
responsible for any portion of the fence cost, unless 
the parties agree otherwise. 

Note that if a fence is a “division fence”, neither 
adjoining owner can move or alter the division fence 
without the other owner’s consent. 

Landowners include any private person or private 
entity that holds a possessory interest in real 
property. The law does not apply to any city, county, 
city and county, district, public corporation, or other 
political subdivision, public body, or public agency. 
Theoretically, the law applies to tenants in addition 
to the owner of the real property. However, most 
residential leases will require that the landlord bear 
financial responsibility for fence maintenance, 
construction, and replacement. 

Exercising the Right to Equal Contribution 

A landowner seeking contribution from the neighbor 
for a division fence must send 30 days’ written 
notice to each neighbor. The notice must include the 

A statement regarding the presumption that 

landowners share equally in the 

construction, maintenance, and 

replacement of division fences2; 

1 Ingwersen v. Barry, 118 Cal. 342, 343 (1897); Western Granite 
& Marble Co. v. Knickerbocker, 103 Cal. 111, 116-117 (1894). 
2 The following language may be used: “Under Cal. Civ. Code § 
841(b)(1): ‘Adjoining landowners are presumed to share an equal 
benefit from any fence dividing their properties and, unless 
otherwise agreed to by the parties in a written agreement, shall be 

A description of the problem facing the 

fence, or the problem the two properties 

face due to the lack of a fence; 

The proposed solution to the problem; 

The estimated cost of the solution; 

The proposed allocation of the cost; and 

The proposed timeline for addressing the 


The statute does not specify a method to deliver the 
notice. However, the property owner sending the 
notice should use a method that keeps a record of 
delivery (e.g. prepare a proof of service, or send by 
registered mail, certified mail, or overnight delivery). 

Exceptions to the Contribution Obligation 

If the adjoining neighbor can establish that imposing 
equal responsibility for the fence cost would be 
unjust, a court may order that the neighbor pay less 
than their proportionate share of the costs none of 
the costs. 

When making this determination, the court will 
consider the following factors in addition to any other 
relevant information: 

1) The financial burden on the neighbor 

compared to the benefit the neighbor 

receives from the fence; 

2) Whether installation / maintenance of the 

fence results in a net increase in the value of 

the neighbor’s property; 

3) The fence’s financial burden on the neighbor 

given the neighbor’s financial 

circumstances; and 

4) The reasonableness and necessity of the 

costs associated with the project. 

Un-Neighborly Refusals to Pay 

Unfortunately, some neighbors aren’t good 
neighbors. A neighbor may ignore refuse to pay their 
share of the fence’s cost. 

In preparing against a neighbor’s potential refusal, 
the fence builder should keep a paper trail as the 
fence project is contemplated and planned. 
Records should include photographs and a video of 
the problem with the fence (or the lack of a fence) 
that justify the proposed solution. The fence-building 
neighbor should keep copies of all cost estimates 

presumed to be equally responsible for the reasonable costs of 
construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the 

3 The timeline should begin after the expiration of the notice (30 

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from contractors to prove they chose the contractor 
offering the best value.4,5 

Work on the project should not begin, nor should 
costs be incurred, until the 30 day notice period 
expires. Upon completion of the project, the fence-
building neighbor should pay the contractor (and any 
other expenses) in full and keep copies of invoices 
and receipts related to the project. 

After completing the fence, the fence-building 
neighbor should make a final written demand for 
contribution to the neighbor. The demand letter 
should request the neighbor make payment 
immediately and include the final cost of the 
originally-proposed project, copies of the invoices 
and receipts, and a copy of the original 30 day 

If the neighbor still refuses to pay, the fence-building 
neighbor can (after having conducted due diligence 
and armed with proper documentation), file suit for 
contribution from the neighbor for their share of the 
costs. If the amount at issue is less than the 
jurisdictional limits (generally $10,000 for an 
individual, and $5,000 for an entity), small claims 
court may be the quickest and most cost effective 
way to pursue claims. 

Kimball, Tirey & St. John specializes in landlord/tenant, 
collections, business and real estate law, with offices 
throughout California. This article is informational only 
and should not be used as legal advice. Check with your 
attorney before acting. If you have any questions 
regarding this article, please call (619) 231-1422. 

4 If the landowner chooses a higher-priced contractor, they should 
maintain evidence to prove that the selected contractor was a 
better choice. 
5 A contractor’s license is required if the person constructing the 
fence is charging the homeowner $500 or more. 

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