Before You Buy: California Fence Laws

by Mark Gold 01/10/2021

Image by Nicole Köhler from Pixabay

One of the things you should do before you buy any property is to request a survey. Just because there’s a fence, doesn’t mean it’s on the property line. Once you have the survey completed you will be able to identify any issues with where the fence is situated. If a problem is found, you can either pass on the property or work with the seller and the other property owner to resolve the issue. If the fence is placed properly, take some time to get familiar with California’s fence laws so you know what to expect as a homeowner.

Fence Responsibility

Since you and your neighbor benefit from your shared fence, you are both equally responsible for its upkeep. If the fence falls, you also share in the replacement costs if you agree to rebuild it. However, the rule that states you are both responsible for the cost of building a new fence isn’t a hard and fast one. If your neighbor wants a fence, but you don’t, you could ask your neighbor to foot the full bill. Be prepared, he or she might opt to take you to court to get an official ruling on the situation.

Spite Fences

A spite fence one that is at least 10 feet high and can be constructed of any material. Your neighbors are not allowed to build a fence as a matter of spite. If this happens, you have the right to sue in a California court. Check your city’s and / or county’s zoning laws for details specific to your location before you file a lawsuit. If you live in a neighborhood with community-level government, check for additional restrictions, covenants and conditions that may support your situation.

Tree Trimming

Because California protects trees, you might not be able to prune or trim a tree that is on your neighbor’s side of the fence, even if it is hanging over to your side of the fence. Always check with your neighbor before trimming. If your neighbor does not agree to the trimming and the tree is damaging your property, local law may still allow you to take action. When trimming or pruning, take special care not to kill the tree. This can result in considerable fines and, in some cases, criminal penalties.

If you have specific questions about fences or trees present on property you'd like to purchase, consult with an attorney regarding local laws that could be on your side.

About the Author

Mark Gold

Mark Gold has been a resident of Sonoma County for over 20 years. He moved here from Los Angeles after a career with his family's furniture business. Mark has two boys and they all still live in Northeast Santa Rosa . Both boys have been active in the Santa Rosa Central Soccer league as well as Junior and Senior Little League. Mark has been active as a coach of several of their teams. His boys now work: his oldest son is the Tasting Room Manager at Kenwood Vineyards and his youngest son was Director at Camp Wa-tum and now