Property Line and Fence Laws in California

They say good fences make for good neighbors. But it's also true that many disputes arise between neighbors over the construction and maintenance of those fences. This is no less true in California, where houses are packed closely together and neighbors like to maintain their privacy. Luckily, state law provides some guidance when it comes to fences, property lines, tree trimming, and more. Read on to learn about property line and fence laws in California.

Property Line and Fence Laws in California

One issue that comes up frequently between neighbors is whether or not they are equally responsible for the costs, construction, and maintenance of a fence that sits on the boundary line between their properties. First, if there is a dispute as to where the property line is, you may need to have a survey conducted to establish where your property actually ends. Secondly, California law presumes that both owners benefit equally from the boundary fence, and therefore are equally responsible for the reasonable costs of construction and maintenance. However, this is not an absolute rule and can be rebutted with additional evidence.

California also allows you to sue your neighbor if they build a "spite fence" on their property. The law states that if your neighbor erects a fence (which can be made out wood, cinder blocks, bushes, etc.) that is at least 10 feet high just to annoy you, you can sue them for private nuisance. However, if your issue is more with the height, materials, or aesthetics of your neighbor's fence, you should check with your city, neighborhood association, and relevant covenants, conditions, and restrictions to see if there are any additional rules that might apply.

California Property Lines and Tree Trimming Laws

Another common area of contention concerns tree trimming. In California, trees are a beloved part of the landscape and are therefore more strictly protected here than in some states. So you have to be careful about cutting branches and roots, even if they extend onto your property. Some cities limit what types of trees can be cut down or pruned; and if you do trim the part of a tree that extends onto your property, you must act reasonably and avoid negligently killing or damaging it. You can face stiff civil and even criminal penalties for damaging a tree on your neighbor's property.

California Property Line and Fence Laws at a Glance

The chart below provides a summary of state laws related to fence laws in California, including links to important code sections.

Statutes

Boundary Fences

  • Adjoining landowners presumed to be equally responsible for reasonable costs of construction, maintenance, or necessary replacement of boundary fences
  • Must give adjoining landowner 30 days' notice before beginning work
  • Must provide description of problem with the fence; proposed solution and estimated costs; proposed timeline for completing project

Spite Fences

  • Any fence or fence-like structure unnecessarily exceeding 10 feet in height maliciously erected or maintained to annoy owner or occupant of adjoining property is a private nuisance

Tree Trimming

  • May not cut down or damage tree on neighbor's land
  • May trim branches extending onto your property, but may not act unreasonable, negligently, or cause harm to tree

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Property Line and Fence Laws in California: Related Resources

Get Legal Help for Your California Fence Law Issues

Although it's best to try to resolve neighborly matters through polite communication and mutual agreement, some issues can easily escalate. Whether your neighbor is refusing to pitch in to repair a dilapidated boundary fence, or you're worried about the liability of trimming certain trees, it's vital to be familiar with state law in order to avoid significant civil and even criminal penalties. Consider speaking with a California real estate attorney to get a handle on your legal options.

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