Fence Laws in Ohio: What You Need To Know

A fence is one of those things that you might put up, but your neighbor can still get use out of. Privacy works both ways, of course!

However, in some states, like Ohio, if your neighbor wants to put up a fence, they might be able to force you to not only contribute to putting it up, but also into maintaining it for the duration that it stands!

ohio flag

How can this be possible? Well, as it turns out, Ohio has historically had fencing laws that were disproportionately focused on the control of livestock, ones which forced property owners on either side to contribute to the upkeep of the fence for that purpose.

Only recently were the Ohio fencing laws overhauled back in 2008, and though they are much more amenable, there are still plenty of complicated nuances you’ll want to know about before you even think of purchasing property or putting up your own fence.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you what they are…

Under What Conditions are Fences Mandatory in Ohio?

There are several circumstances where the installation of a fence could be mandatory in Ohio, complicated by the grandfathering-in of certain old laws even with the passage of the new laws concerning fencing in 2008.

The short version is that upon any parcel any field or other enclosure where livestock are to be kept that is bordered by a division line between two properties must be enclosed with a specific type of partition fence. More on the type of fencing required in just a minute.

This law specifically applies to what are known as “line fences,” as detailed above, but doesn’t apply to any property that is located in a municipality, to any fences that are otherwise required to be constructed on government property or by railroad, or to any lands that are organized into lots under existing Ohio subdivision laws.

So basically, if you live in a city, town or municipality your property probably does not fall under the jurisdiction of these line fence laws, be they old or new.

However, it is entirely possible that either could apply to you if your property was subject to a pre-existing agreement or at one time had a fence on it!

We’ll talk more about each of these situations in the relevant sections…

What Kind of Fencing is Mandated in Ohio?

Concerning line fencing, any fence that is built for the purpose of containing livestock must fit Ohio’s definition of a “preferred partition fence” which can be any of the following types with specified design features.

A preferred partition fence can be:

  • one made of woven wire topped with barbed wire that is at least 48 in from the surface of the ground;
  • high tensile wire fence composed of at least seven strands of wire;
  • or barbed or electric or live fencing (hedges, brocade, etc.), this latter category being one that must be agreed upon in writing by adjoining landowners.

You can see the rest of the relevant standards concerning preferred partition fencing in chapter 971.01 of Ohio’s Revised Code:

Section 971.01 | Owner defined.


(E) “Partition fence” means a fence that is located on the division line between the adjoining properties of two owners. “Partition fence” includes a fence that has been considered a division line between two such properties even though a subsequent land survey indicates that the fence is not located directly on the division line.

(F) “Preferred partition fence” means a partition fence that is a woven wire fence, either standard or high tensile, with one or two strands of barbed wire located not less than forty-eight inches from the ground or a nonelectric high tensile fence of at least seven strands and that is constructed in accordance with the United States natural resources conservation service conservation practice standard for fences, code 382. “Preferred partition fence” includes a barbed wire, electric, or live fence, provided that the owners of adjoining properties agree, in writing, to allow such fences.


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

Potentially yes. If no fence exists on a property after September 30, 2008, but a fence previously existed between two adjoining properties, one property owner may file an affidavit with the County Recorder stating that such a fence used to exist.

Assuming this took place within a specified period of time, once the affidavit is filed and the fence built the owners of the properties will then have to abide by something called the Rule of Equitable Shares to maintain the fence. This is law!

The rule of equitable shares also applies to any fences that exist currently and were built prior to September 30th 2008.

Basically, the Rule of Equitable Shares will assign a certain amount of responsibility to each party when it comes to maintenance and upkeep of the fence based on, what Ohio calls, six Fairness Factors.

These factors are:

  • the topography of the land where the fence is located,
  • the presence of any water features,
  • the presence of vegetation,
  • levels of risk to trespassers or to recreational users on either property,
  • the importance of division lines,
  • and the number and type of livestock to be contained by the fence for either owner.

So, yes, you’re imagining that correctly: it is possible that your neighbor could force you to contribute to the upkeep of a fence that he wants to reconstruct!

Are Fences Required to Contain Livestock in Ohio?

Yes, broadly speaking. Ohio is a “closed range” state, and furthermore has laws which will punish any livestock owner that negligently permits their animals to run at large out of their enclosure.

This is covered in section 971.18 of the Ohio Revised Code:

Section 971.18 | Negligently permitting livestock to run at large.

An owner of livestock who negligently permits the livestock to run at large out of the livestock’s enclosure is liable for all damages resulting from injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by the livestock on the premises of another.

Since fencing is really the only effective and ethical way to keep animals contained reliably on any given piece of property, fences are required for the containment of livestock.

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

Yes, according to the rule of equal shares described above. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be responsible for maintaining a neighbor’s fence, however.

There’s another set of rules governing responsibility for the installation and upkeep of a fence known as the Rule of Individual Responsibility, applying to new fences built after September 30th 2008.

Basically, the person who owns the land and wants the fence has the sole responsibility for its construction and upkeep, no equitable share nonsense.

However, the owner of that fence may seek compensation from any neighbors if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that they use the fence. Use, in this case, means derive use from the fence.

So, if your neighbor puts up a fence, and is solely responsible for it, but then you get cows or other animals that you can contain on your property by using your neighbor’s fence (even partially), you may suddenly be responsible for upkeep shares in your neighbor’s fence.

Keeping all of this straight? I hope so!

How Tall Does Ohio Allow You to Build a Fence?

Ohio doesn’t have specific guidelines governing the height of a line fence or any other fence for public property so long as it follows all other state and local laws.

However, there are specific height requirements for different classifications of fence, particularly fencing that will enclose public pools or other potential hazards to human safety.

In these cases, such fences must be at least 4 feet tall.

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

A “spite fence” is a fence that is built simply for the purpose of depriving another property owner of the enjoyment of their property.

For instance, building a fence that will block their access to the property, obstruct their view of the surrounding area entirely, shade their house from sunlight, or be a giant eyesore.

Typically, such offenses will not be permitted under Ohio law, and particularly by municipal and county laws, if they can be classified as a nuisance.

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

Potentially yes. Building a fence that is strictly for your own purposes could potentially wind up being a fence that you and your neighbor now share under the Rule of Equitable Shares.

In such a case, if the situation for you changed where such that you no longer needed the fence, or even wanted to take care of it, you might still be legally responsible for maintaining it!

This is a very complicated subject, and if it is even potentially a possibility, I highly recommend that you contact a skilled real estate attorney in Ohio.

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

If your neighbor builds a fence that is actually on your property, you should be able to force them to move it or take it down at their own expense.

Likewise, it is also possible that building a fence too close to the property line could be considered encroachment with the same consequences.

Whatever you do, make sure you raise the issue to them and take action because if you don’t they could potentially get legal privilege to keep the fence there, or even annex your property that the fence is on, under adverse possession.

Or, in Ohio, they might be able to successfully argue that you are making use of the fence and now at least partially responsible for it!

HOA Requirements and Local or County Ordinances Will Still Apply

The state-level fencing laws in Ohio are complicated enough, and in rare instances, these are either complicated by or potentially simplified by local county and city fencing laws.

As mentioned above, if your property is in a subdivision, municipality, city, or town the line fencing laws probably will not apply to your parcel.

That means you can basically ignore everything discussed above!

However, you will still have to abide by the laws of the place where you live, including any applicable HOA regulations and subdivision covenants, conditions and restrictions regarding fencing.

This will cover everything from the height and style of your fence to the material that it is made from.

Never, ever assume you are in the clear just because the state law doesn’t apply to your situation! You may also need to get a permit to install your fence depending on where you live.

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