Many stand-alone homes in the United States have a fence. In most cases, the responsibility for the care and maintenance of a fence is clear. The homeowner who had the fence installed is responsible for that fence. But what about a fence that the homeowner did not install? What about a fence that existed for decades without much thought paid to it? Who is responsible for that fence? It is cases like this that can cause headaches for the homeowner.
Believe it or not, there are municipal building codes for fences. The City of Lockhart has a building code for fence installation and maintenance: Chapter 12, Article 8 of the Lockhart Code of Ordinances. Luckily, Caldwell County shares the same code. However, in some jurisdictions, the municipality and county codes may vary. Before beginning work on any fence, it would be wise to contact the Department of Development Services to get guidance on what you can and cannot do.
The code for fences does essentially what any building code does. It establishes norms and practices for the building of fences within the jurisdiction. It creates consistency in the appearance of the community. Safety is another factor in codes. Residential fences cannot be unsightly or unsafe for individuals in the community. A residential fence cannot restrict access by First Responders in case of an emergency. To these ends, codes specify allowable height and materials.
Fence codes also spell out who is responsible for repairing and maintaining existing fences. The main determiner for responsibility for a fence is, “Who uses it?” The work USE here is a legal term but is fairly straightforward.
Example: Property Line Fence
If the fence is a property line indicator that sets one yard apart from the next yard, both homeowners use the fence. Both are responsible for maintaining the fence. There may be trouble if one homeowner tears the fence down without consulting the neighbor. Even if you think it is your fence, check before altering it. Not doing so may result in an angry neighbor or even a fine for altering a fence without a permit.
Example: Pet Retention Fence
A homeowner puts up a fence to keep the dog in the yard. It is the responsible thing to do. The fence surrounds the backyard area on three sides and abuts the house on the fourth side. The sides and back fence line are on the property line. The neighbors agreed to the fence before installation. Since the homeowner installed the fence to retain their dog, they are using the fence. Therefore, the one homeowner is responsible for the care and maintenance of the fence.
While fences are not particularly complicated, the laws related to their construction, care, and maintenance can be confusing. When contemplating a new installation, remodel, or repair to a fence, it would be wise to check with neighbors, a local licensed contractor, or the code compliance office before starting work. Even the best intentions can land a homeowner in hot water when it comes to fences.