You may have heard the phrase “Good fences make good neighbors” (according to poet Robert Frost), but what happens when these otherwise good neighbors build a fence on your property? What should you do? Here in Atlanta, where houses can be within close proximity to each other, boundary disputes are pretty common. However, homeowners do have a couple of options for addressing the problem.

Know Your Property Borders

Before you attempt to address the issue with your neighbor, make sure that you know exactly where the boundaries of your property are. You can find parcel maps at your local or county municipalities. Your HOA might also have a copy of the community plan and parcel size. However, these maps typically provide a general idea of your property lines. For more specific measurements, you should hire a professional surveyor.

Try Talking to Your Neighbor

When a dispute arises, talking things over can be one of the quickest and easiest solutions. Once you know where your exact property boundaries are, try taking a friendly approach with your neighbor. You might want to ask them (politely) if they were aware that the fence was on your property, and if they would be willing to either remove it or re-locate it within the boundaries of their property. You could also (again, politely) let them know that it is less time-consuming and will cost less money if you two address the issue now, rather than pursue a lawsuit or other legal options.

Ask Your HOA to Get Involved

Home Owner Associations (HOA) often have rules in place concerning the construction, appearance, and maintenance of fences within the community. For example, the HOA may have specific policies about the color, height, or placement of the fence. If you believe that your neighbor’s fence violates your HOA rules, you might want to ask the HOA board to get involved with the dispute. The board members may be able to speak with your neighbor, or the organization may have legal recourse about the construction of the fence.

How the Courts Can Help

A landowner has the legal right to take possession of their property and block others from their property – as long as they do so without breaching the peace. If your neighbor is unwilling to remove or re-locate a fence they built on your yard, it may be time to take legal action. Even a small encroachment onto your land can have future negative consequences for you.

The state of Georgia, unfortunately, does not have any specific laws in place about boundary fencing disputes. You may have better luck with your city or county ordinances. If your neighbor’s fence violates a local ordinance, you can alert the city of the violation. The city will send written notification to the neighbor, asking them to either conform to the local fence ordinances or face fines and potentially a compliance lawsuit.

On the state level, fence disputes typically fall under Georgia laws on easements, trespass, nuisance, or property damage. A property easement is a right to use or enter the property of another, without actually possessing that property. It gives one person legal permission to use another person’s land. In Georgia, if a person uses another person’s land for a specified length of time, they could eventually gain a legal right to use that land or even become the owner of that section of property. If you do not address the issue, you could lose access or even ownership to your own property.

If two adjoining neighbors are in dispute over their property lines or an easement (such as a fence constructed outside of the property lines), Georgia courts may order a compulsory purchase and sale of the land in which the easement is claimed. In this situation, a jury would decide how much compensation the easement holder (the person who constructed and uses the fence) should pay to the homeowner (the person who owns the land upon which the fence was built).

A Note on “Spite Fences”

Fence disputes are so common that there is a legal phrase that addresses those eye-sore, taller-than-necessary fences constructed just to annoy the other neighbor: Spite Fences. This can include a manmade fence or a tall row of bushes or trees. Either way, a disgruntled neighbor can file a lawsuit over a spite fence. He or she would need to prove to the Georgia court that the neighbor constructed the fence with malicious intent and purposes, and that the fence or plantings are a nuisance that prevents the property owner from enjoying the light and air on their own property.

Have Additional Questions? Contact the Real Estate Team at Brian M. Douglas & Associates

Your home is a major investment, both financially and emotionally. If a property dispute arises, it can be a delicate matter. If you have additional questions about a fence issue between you and your neighbor, or if you want to discuss your legal options, please contact us at (770) 933-9009. Our experienced real estate team would be happy to speak with you.