Fence Laws in Missouri: What You Need To Know

Pretty much anything we want to do in life anymore is governed by laws. And like the old saying goes, there are two sets of laws in this country: those for little people and those for the elites.

flag of Missouri
flag of Missouri

But as it turns out, if you were talking about fencing in Missouri there are actually two sets of laws!

You heard me right, two sets of laws in Missouri governing fencing: the general fence law and the local option fence law.

There’s a lot to go into, and we will, but right up front you need to know if you’re in one of the counties with the local option laws you might be responsible for helping your neighbor pay for and maintain a fence that he wants to put in. Yikes!

There is a lot to know, so let’s get into it…

Under What Conditions are Fences Mandatory in Missouri?

Missouri does not mandate fences for very many purposes, with the most notable one being for the containment of livestock.

Additionally, pools typically must be protected by fences in Missouri. Although it’s not a state-level law, it is so ubiquitous that it applies almost everywhere.

The real trick in Missouri, is that depending on which set of fencing laws you live under, as determined by the county you reside in, your neighbor might be able to force you, by law, to help pay for and maintain a fence! I’ll unpack all of that in the next section…

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

Potentially, yes. This is done through the “local option” fencing laws.

Now, before we go further, and there’s a lot to explain here, I do want to point out that the vast majority of the state of Missouri is not subject to these laws!

For starters, these laws only apply to 19 counties in the state (subject to change over time) and they furthermore only apply to unincorporated areas. With that in mind, read on.

As described above, Missouri has two sets of state-level fencing laws. These are the general rule fence laws and the local option fence laws.

The general rule fence laws basically mean that if a person wants a fence, and it is legal to install one, they are the one solely responsible for the installation and the upkeep of said fence.

The only catch is that the county a person resides in can determine what is and is not a lawful fence.

Where things get sticky is under the local option fencing laws.

Under the local option, if a property owner wants a fence, then the owner of the neighboring property can also be made responsible for contributing to the construction of the fence and the upkeep of the fence.

They can do that whether or not that neighbor has any use or similar purposes for the fence at all!

So when even one neighbor desires or requires a boundary fence, this makes both landowners legally responsible for their assigned portions of that fence.

Assuming a mutually shared fence under the general rule, if the two property owners were to meet in the middle facing each other, then turn to their right, the entirety of the fence to their right is their responsibility unless another legally binding agreement exists in writing.

It should also be noted that some counties have different methods for establishing responsibility over a given section of fence for each neighbor.

Accordingly, if you live in one of these affected counties, it’s always in your best interest to look up what the law says, or even better simply to file a binding legal agreement concerning responsibility.

However, under the local option fencing laws there is no specified area of responsibility. Traditionally it uses the same system as described above under the general law.

That said, it’s always best to put the demarcation of responsibility in writing, legally, and file it.

What are the Requirements for Fence Design and Height in Missouri?

As expected, Missouri has separate and specific requirements for what constitutes a legal fence depending on whether you are under the general fence law or the local option fence law.

A legal fence under the local option laws is any fence with not less than four boards per 4 feet of height, with said boards spaced no farther apart than twice the width of the boards used to fasten in or two substantial posts that are not more than 12 feet apart.

Missouri state statute 272.210 has a lot more on this definition, included below…

If you’re under the general fencing law, a legal fence consists of posts and wire or boards that are at least 4 feet high and mutually agreed upon by adjoining landowners or decided upon by an associate circuit Court of the county.

Posts in such a fence must be set firmly in the ground not more than 12 feet apart with wire or boards securely fastened and be able to resist livestock animals.

More on this definition is found in Missouri state statute 272.020, also below.

272.210. Definitions.

As used in sections 272.210 to 272.370 the following words and terms have the following meanings:

(1) “Lawful fence”, a fence with not less than four boards per four feet of height; said boards to be spaced no farther apart than twice the width of the boards used fastened in or to substantial posts not more than twelve feet apart with one stay, or a fence of four barbed wires supported by posts not more than fifteen feet apart with one stay or twelve feet apart with no stays, or any fence which is at least equivalent to the types of fences described herein;

(2) “Stay”, a vertical member attached to each board or wire comprising the horizontal members of the fence.

272.020. Fencing requirements.

1. Any fence consisting of posts and wire or boards at least four feet high which is mutually agreed upon by adjoining landowners or decided upon by the associate circuit court of the county is a lawful fence.

2. All posts shall be set firmly in the ground not more than twelve feet apart with wire or boards securely fastened to such posts and placed at proper distances apart to resist horses, cattle and other similar livestock.

Are Fences Mandatory to Contain Livestock in Missouri?

Yes, generally. Livestock owners are generally liable for what their animals do, although in local option counties liability is much more selective depending on what portion of the fence the animals broke through and under what conditions.

Under state law, negligence must be proven on the part of the animals’ owner.

This could be something like chronically neglected fencing, broken and ignored fencing, animals that were forced to escape the property in search of food because they were being starved or mistreated, a dangerous animal breaking out that already has a history of escapes, and other similar factors.

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

Under the local option law, yes. Under the general rule law, no, unless it can be proven by the fence owner that the owner of the neighboring property is making use of the fence, and even then this will usually come down to a court case.

How Tall Does Missouri Allow You to Build a Fence?

Missouri State law does not have any specific restrictions on how high you can build a fence, but it does have requirements for the minimum height to qualify as a legal fence under the general fence law or the local option fence law as outlined in the previous section.

I will also mention here that it is highly likely that local municipal, county, town and city laws, not to mention neighborhood associations and HOAs, will have their own bylaws, rules, and requirements for fencing height or minimum height and style. Make sure you look into that.

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

A “spite fence” is a fence that is designed and constructed with the sole or additional purpose of depriving another property owner of their access or enjoyment of their property.

Generally, a spite fence is extremely tall in an effort to block out light or air moving to a neighboring property, or perhaps to shade the property in part or entirely, or else is made ugly, obtrusive or annoying on purpose.

Missouri state law does not have a statute that specifically disallows spite fences, but laws are in place at pretty much every local level that no fence may be in violation of state or local laws, and may not be considered a nuisance or else you can be ordered to alter it or take it down.

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

Yes, potentially. The interactions of rights and responsibilities concerning fencing are, obviously, very complicated in Missouri depending on where you live and what fencing laws you are operating under.

One major concern about putting up fencing is you’ll then have specific responsibilities concerning the maintenance and suitability of the fence for its given purpose (typically keeping livestock where they are supposed to be).

But, this can get particularly complicated if you are no longer engaged in the practice that required you to put up your own fence in the first place.

If you stop raising animals, for instance, but you’re in a local option county and under the purview of the state law, if your neighbor continues to keep livestock, but you stop maintaining your portion of the fence, and that allows your neighbor’s animals to get out, you can be liable for the animals getting out- and also for any other damages they cause to someone else’s property!

However, this is only one example in a veritable sea of such examples, and depending on the specific context you or your neighbor may be liable.

The situation is of course entirely different under general fence laws.

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

If your neighbor puts up a fence, that is theirs and solely theirs, and it turns out that it’s on your property you are looking at a boundary line dispute.

Most of the time, you can force them to move the fence or take it down.

However, if you don’t, and you allow the fence to persist for their exclusive use, then they may be able to take your property under what is called adverse possession.

This is very difficult to pull off in Missouri, and your neighbor would have to act as if they own the property, do so in the open where they can be seen by everybody, keep everyone else (meaning you) from using the property, and be doing so in a manner that is hostile to your actual rights as an owner.

On top of all that, the fence must have been installed under a claim or right, or else a title error.

Only then, after 10 years with all those prerequisites met, could someone take possession of your property if their fence was placed in such a manner

HOA Requirements and Local or County Ordinances Will Still Apply

And as always, be sure to double and triple check your local city and county laws, and also any applicable HOA restrictions regarding fencing.

It is certain you’ll run into at least one and probably more laws or codes concerning the material, height and type of fencing you can install on any given property.

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