alcatrazfence.jpgWe own a house in the Richmond district and our neighbor is insisting to replace the fence in our backyard. Am I legally responsible to pay for the new fence even though it’s not my idea? If we don’t pay for half of it, he has threatened to sue us.

The SF Assessor’s office sympathizes with you – “This is a very complex problem,” the Assessor’s website states – but neither the site nor the representative I spoke with could give me more specific advice beyond contacting an attorney or hiring a surveyor (“to establish your property line and thus determine who must carry the cost of replacing the fence”).

So, I called a lawyer: Jason Lundberg of Allegiance Law. This is the best advice he could give me without seeing the fence in question: “The issue is the condition of the fence. The questioner should attempt to take a look, as objectively as possible, to determine if the fence needs fixing, e.g. is the fence slouching in parts, are boards broken. If the fence needs to be fixed and a demand for payment is made, the questioner’s neighbor may have a cause of action against him/her for half the cost of fixing or repairing the fence.”

Is there a code to blame for this “cause of action?” Why, yes there is: Cal. Civ. Code Sec. 841, which states that coterminous owners are mutually bound equally to maintain:

1. The boundaries and monuments between them;

2. The fences between them, unless one of them chooses to let his land lie without fencing; in which case, if he afterwards encloses it, he must refund to the other a just proportion of the value, at that time, of any division fence made by the latter.

Lundberg added: “The law on this issue is fairly old. In Gonzalez v, Watson (1876) 51 Cal. 295, the court stated that fences on property are a mutual obligation of each adjacent landowner. Essentially, if the property owner is going to benefit from fixing the fence, she or he may be responsible for half the cost of the fence.”

Looks like you probably have to cough up the money, unless your fence is in pristine condition and your neighbor is really being irrational.

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