Our Northwest

Who maintains the fence, you or your neighbor?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

My backyard has been screaming for attention, so yesterday I enjoyed our sunny 84-degree weather by pulling weeds and yanking out that oh-so-invasive Himalayan blackberry.
     My toil took me to the border of my backyard, where I discovered the fence is decaying after 29 years.
     So, whose responsibility is it to maintain the fence? Or worse, to repair or replace it – me or my neighbor?
     This fence is a sore spot with me. In 1987, we bought our lot for its unobstructed view of the Cascades, and also in part for its glimpse of Lake Sammamish and the serene horse pasture next door. We built our dream home there and moved in.
     Just months later, my wife called me at work one day and said, "Hey, the horses are gone from the pasture." The next day she called again. "They're unloading bulldozers in the pasture!"
     We learned the entire adjacent hillside had been bought by Burnstead Homes, which now was briskly developing its Marymoor Hills subdivision. Houses popped up, blocking our lake view.
     Workers also erected an eight-foot-high fence just across our property line, on the Burnstead property. The semi-rural character of our home was lost. Compare these two photos. (As time wore on, ornamental trees across the fence obstructed much of our view of the Cascades, and we learned Redmond city code prohibits topping mature trees. But I digress.)
     Today, with that Marymoor Hills fence – the fence I never wanted – failing, who's responsible for it? I learned from recent PEMCO Poll results that when asked about their own fences, 32% of Washington and Oregon residents answered, "The responsibility is shared equally." Nearly half said "My household is responsible" while just 10% said it's the neighbor's responsibility.
     PEMCO's Claims department says generally, if the fence sits on your side of the property line, it’s yours. If it runs right down the property line, it’s shared. 
     I phoned the senior code-enforcement officer for the City of Redmond to learn the official answer for my case:

  • Fences on private property are a civil matter.
  • Unlike other areas of the country, municipalities here can't intervene, per land-use law.
  • Redmond encourages a discussion between the two property owners to reach mutual agreement.
  • Most neighbors end up splitting the cost.
     I was reminded, "That's not a legal interpretation. For that you'd need to talk to a land-use attorney."
     If you wonder how the code applies to you, check with your own municipality.
     As for me, I suppose I should quit sulking after 29 years and do what I can to shore up the backyard fence and extend its life.


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