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Spite Fence Law

A spite fence is a wall or fence that does not have a useful purpose but is unsightly to look at and meant to be erected and maintained for malicious reasons. This could be to obstruct a neighbor’s view or flow of air and light to his property. A spite fence can even be built to irritate a neighbor or because of a neighbor dispute. A spite fence could be erected in the form of a fence, row of trees, bushes, or hedges and, as a fence, normally does not serve a purpose for the owner. Certain states and local governments have restrictions regarding the building of spite fences.

Listed below are a few questions answered by lawyers on spite fence laws.

My neighbor has erected an illegal spite fence. He also accused me of chopping down a part of a tree and has called the sheriff and is threatening to get a restraining order against me. The whole claim is unsubstantiated but I am wondering whether he has a case.

You don’t have to worry. Your neighbor can go to the sheriff but he has no case to get a restraining order against you. From what you have said, you haven’t done anything wrong. But if you belong to a home owners association (HOA) his fence violates any bylaws, covenants, restrictions, and so on, you could have a claim against him. You might want to get your HOA to enforce an action against him now. This will help your HOA to enforce rules against others who break them in the future as well.

Does Dixie County in Florida have a "spite hedge" law specifically in Old Town?

Unfortunately, there are no laws about spite hedges or spite fences in Florida. There is only one case that dealt with the issue regarding a "spite fence" and the court decided action could be taken under a private nuisance if the hedges affected the property and brought down its value. Apart from that, if you have a hedge encroaching on your property, you can trim the bit that is over your property line without harming the hedges.

Can my neighbor install a spite fence on the property line without my consent? It’s an eyesore, hasn’t been maintained, and is more visible from our yard rather than the neighbor’s.

Yes the neighbor can build a fence without your consent and it does not violate a law just by being an eyesore. It would only violate a law if it harmed any of the neighbors or passersby.

In most cases, a fence on a boundary line belongs to both owners and they need to keep it in good condition and cannot have it removed without the other's permission. A few states even have serious penalties for not paying maintenance for the fence after one owner requests it from the other.

The best option for you would be to talk to your neighbor about how to approach the problem, suggesting you are ready to take the initiative to fix the fence because it could pose a real threat. However, if you strongly feel that the fence affects your property value, then you might have a case for suing your neighbor for nuisance.

The spite fence our neighbor built on our property line prevents us from using our back door to have oil deliveries made. How can we remove the fence?

To begin with, you could check if there is an easement recorded between the lots by doing a title search. Then you could get in touch with the city/county and check if there was a service easement between county/city homes for the purpose of electricity, oil, and so on. You could also perhaps prove that an easement was acquired over many years during which oil deliveries needed to be taken at the back. If nothing works, speak to a real estate lawyer about trying to prove the last option.

Since spite fences are built with a malicious intent to bring harm to a neighbor, certain states have laws that prohibit fences being built for this purpose. These laws need proof of spite fences being erected not only in terms of height restriction violations but also of intent to harm another person. However, before the laws came into being, there was a case of a historic spite fence that was built in California by the Railroad baron Charles Crocker. He was so angry when a neighbor refused to sell him land adjoining his mansion that he built a 40-foot-tall fence on his property line, blocking air and light on three sides of his neighbor's property.
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