If you own a property, one of the most important features you can install on it is a fence. Fences help you keep unwanted animals and sometimes people off of your property, help support you if you need to punish trespassers, and even provide you with privacy from nosy neighbors.
But every single state in the US has different fencing laws, with some being far more complicated than others.
Virginia is a state with an interesting history concerning these fencing laws…
Historically, they sort of went back and forth from the rights of livestock owners to the rights of agricultural farmers, and in the not too distant past they basically said “forget it” and streamlined the fencing laws to let most counties decide what is best.
There’s plenty you’ll still want to know though, so keep reading if you’re thinking about installing a fence in Virginia.
Under What Conditions are Fences Mandatory in Virginia?
Compared to long-past decades, Virginia state law is far more lenient concerning the construction of mandatory fencing.
For starters, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with section 55.1-2814 through 55.1-2820 of the Virginia State statutes.
This law, sometimes referred to as the No-Fence Law, mandates that livestock owners are obligated to fence in their properties to contain their livestock on their land and keep them from entering the property of others.
So if you have livestock, a fence is mandatory to contain them. You also want to take a look at section 55.1-2817 which is the state law that prevents any local municipal, city or county laws from adopting any fencing law that is more stringent than the state law.
Other than that, state law mandates that homeowners have an obligation to build and maintain division fences between their lands and share the costs with their neighbor.
That is, unless they come to some other agreement regarding fencing between themselves.
This is covered in section 55.1-2821, and we will talk more about that in the next section of this article.
Lastly, a common local law found throughout Virginia requires pools to have fences around them for safety.
These offenses must be at least 4 feet high and not have any handholds or footholds that would allow a person to climb them, and be sufficiently far away from other structures that would allow people to hop over the fence.
55.1-2821. Obligation to provide division fences
Adjoining landowners shall build and maintain, at their joint and equal expense, division fences between their lands, unless one of them chooses to let his land lie open or unless they agree otherwise.
55.1-2814. How governing body of county may make local fence law
The board of supervisors or other governing body in any county, after publishing notice as required by subsection F of § 15.2-1427, may, by ordinance, declare the boundary line of each lot or tract of land or any stream in such county, any magisterial district of such county, or any selected portion of such county, to be a lawful fence as to any or all domesticated livestock, or may declare any other kind of fence for such county, magisterial district, or selected portion of the county than as prescribed by § 55.1-2804 to be a lawful fence, as to any or all of such animals.
Can Your Neighbor Force You to Build or Pay for a Fence in Virginia?
Potentially, but under the current Virginia state laws this is unlikely if you absolutely do not want to build or contribute to the cost of building and maintaining a fence.
Referring again to section 55.1-2817 of the Virginia state statutes, we see a requirement for neighboring landowners to build and maintain division fences between their properties and to share the costs, of doing so.
That is, however, unless the landowners come to some other agreement…
If your neighbor wants to build a fence, and you don’t want to build a fence, your neighbor will need to submit the desire to do so in writing.
He’ll also have to outline the scope in terms of the project, the cost for doing so and the requirement to repair and maintain it.
If you agree to the proposal, the costs for building the fence will be split 50/50.
However, if you do not want to erect a division fence but your neighbor still wants to proceed, you’ll need to then submit your intention to let your land lie open, and to do so in writing.
This is a declaration that you have no intention to use your property for agriculture, and so we’ll get no real use from the fence that your neighbor is proposing.
Accordingly, you won’t be responsible for any costs associated with building or with repairing the fence going forward.
Then again, if you decide to let your land lie open and follow the letter of the law for submitting your intention to do so, if at some point in the future you do decide to build a fence or otherwise enclose your property, you will then be on the hook for reimbursing your neighbor, the one that installed the fence, for 50% of the costs of the project!
Basically, the fence then becomes a shared boundary fence as before.
Are Fences Required to Contain Livestock in Virginia?
Yes. With the passage of 55.1-2814 through 55.1-2820, the No-Fence Law, the notion of fencing in livestock as the responsibility of the livestock owner was ensconced as the rule in state law, though further regulations regarding fencing still rest in the hands of local governments.
Livestock owners are entirely responsible for keeping their livestock contained on their own properties or on any properties they have legal access to, whatever they may be.
Livestock owners are responsible, meaning legally liable, for any damage or trespass that their animals inflict if they were inadequately contained by fencing.
55.1-2820. When unlawful for animals to run at large
It is unlawful for the owner or manager of any domesticated livestock to permit any such animal, as to which the boundaries of lots or tracts of land have been or may be constituted a lawful fence, to run at large beyond the limits of his own lands within the county, magisterial district, or portion of such county in which such boundaries have been constituted and are a lawful fence.
Do Neighbors Have to Share the Costs of Maintaining a Fence in Virginia?
Yes, assuming the neighbors reach a mutual agreement regarding the installation, maintenance, repair, and replacement of a boundary fence.
As mentioned above, the costs are shared 50/50 unless the property owners come to a separate agreement. That agreement had better be recorded in writing!
If you are wise, you’ll have an attorney draw it up and then get both your signature and your neighbor’s signature on it before having it notarized and recorded.
Something else to keep in mind in Virginia is that if one neighbor who is responsible for the fence wants to have the fence prepared or maintained, they have the right to do so and seek 50% reimbursement from the other person.
However, they can only ask for that if they submit their intention to repair or maintain the fence in writing to the other party with at least 30 days notice.
How Tall Does Virginia Allow You to Build a Fence?
There are no explicit laws concerning the maximum height of a fence in Virginia, not at the state level. This includes any fence that’s tall enough to be considered a nuisance or spite fence.
However, county, municipal, and city laws will very likely apply concerning the erection of any excessively tall fans, or one that is put up purely for the purpose of spiting a neighbor.
What is a Spite Fence? Are they Allowed in Virginia?
A “spite fence,” as a concept, is broadly defined as any fence that is put up with the explicit purpose of depriving another property owner of enjoyment of their own property.
Generally, a spite fence is one that’s so tall and obtrusive that it can block out light, maliciously cast shade, stop airflow, impede access or generally be a giant nuisance.
Many states have laws on the books concerning the construction of spite fences, but Virginia is not one of them, at least at the state level as mentioned above.
However, it’s highly probable that wherever you live in the state your local laws will apply that will prevent the construction of such a fence, either by yourself or by your neighbor.
You want to make sure you review all of the relevant local laws, codes and regulations concerning the height, design, and other factors associated with the installation of a fence.
In any case, no matter what, putting up a spite fence is never a good idea and will generally only lead to more problems down the road and intensifying animosity between you and your neighbor!
Does Building a Fence Make You Liable for Anything in Virginia?
Building a fence may make you legally liable for different things depending on the purpose of the fence.
In the case of a mutually shared boundary fence between two neighbors, once you have agreed to construct and maintain the fence you are on the hook for that maintenance, and if you fall behind in your neighbor decides to go ahead, they can legally seek contribution from you for 50% of whatever costs are required for maintenance or repair.
Similarly, if you own livestock and your fence was found to be inadequate according to state requirements for fencing, you can be held directly liable for any damage or trespass that your animals cause after they escape.
Similarly, if you have a fence around a pool that does not meet state standards and an accident occurs involving a child or someone else, you might be held liable for that.
What Happens if a Neighbor’s Fence is Actually on My Property?
As described above, assuming you’re okay with the boundary fence being built you and your neighbor will share it.
It will need to be in its appointed place, of course, depending on the precise boundary of your property
But let’s say, for the sake of this section, that your neighbor wanted to go ahead with the fence, you did not, and so the neighbor built a fence entirely on their own.
After construction, it was discovered that the fence is actually on your property. Now what?
In such a case, generally, you’ll be able to force your neighbor to take down or move the fence to their property, but you’ll want to make sure you take action on this and don’t let it slide.
It is possible, though very unlikely in Virginia, that with enough time, your neighbor might be given legal privilege to keep the fence where it is on your property if you allow it to remain there and allow your neighbor to use it according to their will.
It’s also possible, but once again very unlikely, that your neighbor could actually annex a portion of your land because of the position of the fence through a process known as adverse possession.
HOA Requirements and Local or County Ordinances Will Still Apply
As I mentioned above, Virginia state law in recent decades has shifted towards letting counties and municipalities decide what fencing laws make sense for them so long as they are no stricter than the state’s own laws.
Because of this, it’s absolutely critical that you thoroughly investigate the fencing laws in your county, municipality, city, town and even neighborhood if you have an HOA.
It is quite likely you will encounter restrictions on height, material, design, setback and more that you’ll have to abide by legally.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.