Fence Laws in California: What You Need To Know

No matter where you live, your neighbors can make all the difference. Good neighbors are worth their weight in gold, and truly are a blessing, while churlish, belligerent neighbors can make your life a living hell with virtually no way out.

flag of California
flag of California

If you are dealing with one of the latter neighbors, your best bet is usually just a put up a fence around your property as a buffer.

But if you live in California, that might make the problem worse! In California, neighbors who share a property line, most generally agree and also contribute financially to the installation of any given fence and also the upkeep of that fence.

If you already don’t see eye to eye with your neighbors, this can make the whole affair agonizing.

There’s a lot you’ll want to know before you even think of looking for quotes in California, so keep reading and I’ll tell you about them.

Under What Conditions are Fences Mandatory in California?

Fences in California are only really mandatory (for most citizens) under two conditions, or potentially two and a half but we’ll get to that half in just a minute.

The first instance is if you own any pool that’s more than 18 inches deep. Any such pool, be it above or below ground, must have a fence built around it that includes a gate or door with a self closing and self latching mechanism.

The fence must be at least 60 inches high with no gaps whatsoever that would allow a small child to enter it or climb over it.

There are other specifications as well concerning the construction factors of the fence depending on the type of material that it is made from.

The other instance is if someone owns livestock. Livestock owners are solely responsible for keeping their livestock contained safely and securely on their own property, and this naturally entails the use of fencing in almost every single instance.

Then, that half instance I mentioned up above, is in case you share a property boundary line with a neighbor and your neighbor decides to put up a fence.

You might be responsible for contributing to the costs of installation and upkeep of the fence.

There are ways to avoid this, of course, but it generally depends upon proving that you will get no use or benefit from the fence, or that you are currently under a financial hardship that would make installation or maintenance of the fence impossible.

So, if your neighbor wants a fence, now you’ll have a fence, too, and be responsible for it to a degree!

Can Your Neighbor Force You to Build or Pay for a Fence in California?

Yes. The basis of California fencing law rests on the presumption that adjoining property owners are equally responsible for any reasonable costs associated with the installation, maintenance, repair or replacement of boundary fences.

While it’s unlikely that your neighbor could force you to pay for the entirety of the fence, if your neighbor wants a fence you’re now going to be on the hook for it as described above.

But there’s a process for this in California, what is it typically referred to as the Good Neighbor Fence Law.

Under California Civil Code section 841, any person who plans to install, maintain, repair or replace any shared offense or any part of a share fence must inform the other impacted property owners with at least 30 days notice and do so in writing.

This letter must contain a clear outline of the proposed build, the maintenance or repair of the fence that is being considered along with the reasoning for the operation, and also detail in clear language what action will be taken and approximately how long it will take along with an expense projection.

These letters must also include a space for the name and signature of each recipient.

So if you get one of these letters, it’s now down to you to take appropriate action…

If you’re unable or unwilling to pay for the construction, maintenance or repairs associated with your neighbors fence project, or really both of yours shared fencing project, then you’ll have to prove to local authorities that:

  • it has no or little benefit for you,
  • that the costs are simply unreasonable or excessive,
  • or that you just cannot afford to pay because of some hardship.

California Code, Civil Code – CIV 841

(a) Adjoining landowners shall share equally in the responsibility for maintaining the boundaries and monuments between them.

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

(2) Where a landowner intends to incur costs for a fence described in paragraph (1), the landowner shall give 30 days’ prior written notice to each affected adjoining landowner. The notice shall include notification of the presumption of equal responsibility for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence. The notice shall include a description of the nature of the problem facing the shared fence, the proposed solution for addressing the problem, the estimated construction or maintenance costs involved to address the problem, the proposed cost sharing approach, and the proposed timeline for getting the problem addressed.

(3) The presumption in paragraph (1) may be overcome by a preponderance of the evidence demonstrating that imposing equal responsibility for the reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of the fence would be unjust. In determining whether equal responsibility for the reasonable costs would be unjust, the court shall consider all of the following:


Are Fences Required to Contain Livestock in California?

Yes. As described above it is the responsibility of all livestock owners to contain their animals on their own property.

Typically, this will require fencing for any animals that are allowed to roam or graze, and counts for the livestock owners own parcel as well as any parcels that they have legal access to or permission to be on.

Livestock owners are liable for any damages that their trespassing or escaped animals cause!

Do Neighbors Have to Share the Costs of Maintaining a Fence in California?

Yes. Under California’s Good Neighbor Fence Law, the basic presumption is that each property owner benefits to a degree from a boundary fence, and according to the measure of that benefit is responsible for maintenance and upkeep.

This means that you’ll be responsible for helping to maintain the fence, clean it, paint it and so forth.

California law doesn’t specify which part, length or facing of a fence you are responsible for.

But, it is traditional that each neighbor is responsible for their side of the fence, and it should coordinate to ensure that cleaning, upkeep and refinishing is done in an organized manner that will contribute to the longevity of the fence.

But as with the installation of a fence in the first place, this law is not absolute.

You might be able to abdicate this presumed responsibility with additional evidence that the fence does not benefit you, that the proposed upkeep or maintenance procedures are excessive or unnecessary, or that you’re currently under a financial hardship.

How Tall Does California Allow You to Build a Fence?

California State law and attendant building codes specify that there is a general 6 foot limit on the height of any fence that you can build on a residential property. That is, built without a permit!

For any fence over 6 feet tall, you will need a permit. And that is only for the sides and back of your home; the maximum height of any front yard fence is capped at 42 inches.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, there is a blanket limit on the height of any fence at 10 feet; fences, walls or other barriers that exceed 10 feet generally fall into the category of a nuisance fence or spite fence, and are illegal under California law.

What is a Spite Fence? Are they Allowed in California?

Broadly speaking, a spite fence is any fence, wall, barrier or fence like structure, made of natural materials or otherwise, that is designed or installed in such a way that it is intended to deprive another property owner of the enjoyment of their property.

Spite fences are typically put up to block otherwise pleasant views, to block sunlight, maliciously cast shade, or even block air flow to adjoining properties – or generally just to be an eyesore.

California defines a spite fence as any fence or fence like structure that unnecessarily exceeds 10 feet in height that was maliciously erected or maintained in such a way as to annoy the owner or occupant of any adjoining property.

Spite fences are considered a private nuisance, and generally the person who raised it can be forced to take it down or modify it. See California Civil Code Section 841.4 below:

California Code, Civil Code – CIV 841.4

Any fence or other structure in the nature of a fence unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance. Any owner or occupant of adjoining property injured either in his comfort or the enjoyment of his estate by such nuisance may enforce the remedies against its continuance prescribed in Title 3, Part 3, Division 4 of this code.

Does Building a Fence Make You Liable for Anything in California?

Yes. As described above, if you initiate the building of any fence or you become responsible for the maintaining of any fence according to your neighbors wishes you are held liable for following California law regarding your contributions to the project.

Additionally, for any fence on a boundary line there must be no gaps in the fence of any kind that could allow a child to slip through or under the fence.

If it can be proven that you negligently allowed conditions to exist that would facilitate a child passing through or under the fence, you can be held legally liable.

What Happens if a Neighbor’s Fence is Actually on My Property?

Assuming your neighbor desires a fence and has it installed, with or without your permission and contribution, and it turns out that the fence is on your property or encroaching too closely to your property line based on any existing agreement or survey, it’s highly likely that you can force them to take the fence down or move it.

This will almost certainly require the assistance of an attorney, but at any rate, you must not sit on the problem…

If you do not take action regarding it, it is possible that they might gain the legal right to leave the fence where it is or even be able to annex a portion of your property under adverse possession.

HOA Requirements and Local or County Ordinances Will Still Apply

And just a reminder, all of the above is simply California’s state law, and does not cover local county, municipal and city laws or guidelines which in all likelihood will entail additional restrictions.

Generally, there will be requirements on material, style, height, permitting and more.

Also don’t forget to check with your HOA for any restrictions and your subdivision, if applicable, for any covenants, codes and restrictions, popularly referred to as CCRs, for ones that might apply to fence projects.

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