Adjoining Landowners

Under California law, adjoining landowners, those with properties contiguous or in contact with each other, share equally the responsibility for maintaining boundaries and monuments between them. Adjoining landowners are actually presumed to share an equal benefit from any fence dividing their respective properties, and unless otherwise agreed in writing, are also presumed to be equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence.

Effective January 1, 2014, a landowner must give each affected adjoining landowner a 30-day prior written notice of any intent to incur costs for the repair, maintenance or necessary replacement of a division fence. This notice must include the following specific information: (1) a notice of the presumption of equal responsibility for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence; (2) a description of the nature of the problem with the shared fence; (3) the proposed solution for the problem; (4) the estimated construction or maintenance costs to address the problem; (5) the proposed cost sharing approach; and (6) the proposed timeline for addressing the problem.

If an owner of a contiguous parcel does not agree with the presumption of equal ownership and cost sharing, that owner can overcome the presumption by showing, by a preponderance of evidence, that imposing equal responsibility is unjust. In considering whether such cost sharing is unjust, a court will consider the following factors: (a) whether the financial burden on one landowner is substantially disproportionate to the benefit conferred upon that landowner by the fence; (b) whether the cost of the fence would exceed the difference in the value of the property before and after its installation; (c) whether the financial burden to one landowner would impose an undue financial hardship given that party’s financial circumstances as demonstrated by reasonable proof; (d) the reasonableness of a particular construction or maintenance project, including the extent to which costs appear to be unnecessary, excessive, or the result of a landowner’s personal aesthetic, architectural or other preferences; and (e) any other equitable factors deemed appropriate under the circumstances.

As a practical matter, this new law does not apply to any city, county, political subdivision, public body or public agency.

This law repeals existing law enacted in 1872.

Remembering that good fences make for good neighbors, before making demands on your contiguous neighbors, be sure the fence is truly a boundary fence, and not located solely on your property making it your sole and separate financial responsibility. How you approach the cost sharing may make all the difference in gaining cooperation if the fence is the shared responsibility of contiguous landowners.