What’s Pennsylvania’s Fence Law?
If you own a home in the suburbs or on farmland, you’re going to want a fence. A fence will mark the boundaries of your property, keep your children and animals safe, and, in some cases, keep people and other animals out. But there are many legal issues that transpire between neighbors over fences because they almost always sit between two different properties. To dictate and guide neighbors in issues like this, Pennsylvania has several fence laws, including one aptly named the Fence Law.
This collection of laws helps home and property owners understand how they should settle property disputes over fences. It covers who pays for the fences, who can put up fences, and if anyone needs a fence. Some homes come with a fence already installed, so if you’re thinking of putting one up for the first time in your new home, it’s understandable to not know about these laws.
Before you put up a new fence or even replace an old one, consult a residential real estate attorney. The attorneys at Mazzoni Valvano Szewczyk & Karam can help you.
Pennsylvania’s Fence Law
The first and most basic of Pennsylvania’s fence laws is the one aptly named Fence Law. It dictates that homeowners can build fences on their property as long as it’s on their property or on the charted property line. The important stipulation is that, save for specific exceptions, the neighbor who shares the property line, has no responsibility to build, maintain, or pay for the fence with their neighbor.
This means if you build a new fence within your property limits, it’s wholly your responsibility. Even if your fence benefits your neighbor in some way, they owe you nothing for it. If they damage it, it would be as if they damaged any other piece of property you own.
Are There Exceptions to the Rule?
Currently, there is only one exception to this rule where the neighbor has to help pay for a fence, even if they did not plan to in the first place. If both you and your neighbor have livestock animals, you must have a fence. Unless there’s some mutual agreement to the contrary, you must both pay for it. If only one neighbor has livestock, they can’t make the other pay for a fence.
If one neighbor has livestock but doesn’t build a fence, and livestock damages their neighbor’s property, it is like other property damage cases.
Are Fences Required?
Fences are not required around any property. If someone can keep livestock and pets on their property without a fence, they don’t have to have one. The only time someone has to have a fence in Pennsylvania is if they have a pool or pool-adjacent bodies of water. This includes above-ground pools and hot tubs.
Pool fences must also meet certain criteria, including:
- A self-closing, self-latching opening mechanism at least 54 inches from the ground.
- A minimum height requirement of 4 feet.
- No space between chainlinks wider than 4 inches.
- If the fence is a solid wall rather than a chain link, it cannot have protrusions or indentations.
- Chain link fences have to be 2.25 inches square.
This is to prevent property owners, neighbors, pets, and livestock from drowning in the pool.
Pennsylvania’s Doctrine of Consentable Lines
This fence law is how you and your neighbors can define property boundaries. While you and your neighbor may have deeds, property layouts, and land surveys at your town’s local government office, you’re not always going to know for sure where property lines are. While this may be less of an issue in suburban areas where property lines are more or less the same, it is not uncommon for neighbors to decide together where their property lines are.
This is actually legal, and if two neighbors mutually agree that a property line is one place, and behave as so for at least 21 years, then that becomes the property line. It’s common for neighbors to be mistaken for where property lines are, especially for properties with older homes. The Doctrine of Consentable Lines allows these neighbors to change their property lines where they see fit, as long as they are in agreement.
How Can This Be a Problem?
The Doctrine of Consentable Lines is perfect for two neighbors who have known each other for years. It’s not as useful for new neighbors, or when a property is passed down to a descendant. While the Doctrine has changed the property lines for the neighboring properties themselves, not only the neighbors, many people don’t document this change.
Because the change in property lines was never officially changed, people who inherit or buy the property have reason to believe that the property lines are different. New neighbors can seek legal action to use old property lines, and if the use of the Doctrine of Consentable Lines isn’t filed, there might not be proof that a property’s previous owner agreed to the property changes.
How Can MVSK’s Residential Real Estate Attorneys Help?
A real estate attorney can help a neighbor find or develop proof that a property line is where they think it is. Our real estate attorneys have experience dealing with different property disputes, and this is one of the most common ones there is. Whether you’re a new neighbor who wants the property lines you were sold or a long-time neighbor who wants to establish new property lines officially, we can help. Contact us today for a consultation.