Property Line and Fence Laws in Illinois

A drive through rural Illinois will reveal many neighborhoods without perimeter fences. You may wonder whether there are laws prohibiting fences, or maybe all the neighbors just good friends? The answer is likely a mixture of both. However, fences are commonplace in most urban areas and, unfortunately, so are disputes over fences and property lines. When you can't talk through your differences, it's helpful to understand your rights under Illinois property line and fence laws.

Quick Look: Illinois Property Line and Fence Laws

This chart provides a summary of key Illinois laws relevant to property line and fence disputes.

Lawful Fence
  • IL ST CH 765 § 130/2
  • Must be 4.5 feet high
  • In good repair
  • Constructed from rails, timber boards, stone, hedges, barb wire, woven wire or whatever the fence viewers of the town or precinct state is appropriate
  • Must be sufficient to prevent cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and other stock from getting on the adjoining lands of another
Responsibility to Maintain a Division Fence
  • IL ST CH 765 § 130/3
  • A division fence is one separating the land of 2 of more persons
  • Each person must make and maintain a "just portion" of the fence
  • A hedge fence cannot be more than 5 feet high
Fence Dispute Settlement
  • IL ST CH 765 § 130/7
  • Two official Fence Viewers will define the portion of the fence to be built or maintained by each.
  • In counties under township organization, the board of trustees will serve as fence viewers in their respective towns.
  • In counties not under township organization the presiding officer of the county board, three fence viewers in each precinct
Wrongful Tree Trimming Act
  • IL ST CH 740 § 185/2
  • It is a violation to cut or cause to be cut any tree unless you have full legal title
  • Violators of the act will be liable for three times the value of the tree
  • Utility providers have a right to cut any tree that interferes with service

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.

Illinois Fence Law Basics

Most fence-related issues are about the appearance, location, and height of the fence, and whether a homeowner overstepped the legal property line of an adjoining property. Illinois' Fence Act was drafted to clarify issues common to those with large tracks of farmland or living in rural, unincorporated regions. A legal fence is defined as one that will sufficiently contain livestock on the land.

However, there are portions of the state's Fence Act that can impact those in residential neighborhoods. For example, in counties with less than one million residents and not within the corporate limits of any city in such county, when one land owner wants to fence their property, each owner of adjoining land must pay for and maintain the fence even when they do not want the fence installed.

Neighbors' Responsibilities for a Common Fence

Illinois state law and local ordinances place the responsibility for maintenance of a boundary fence separating two properties on the owners that use the fence. Consequently, when a fence needs repair, both property owners must share the cost. If one party refuses to cooperate, the other party can do any of the following:

  • Write a letter to the neighbor explaining the problem with the fence
  • Request a "fence viewer" examine the fence and make a recommendation of whether the fence needs repair or whether the amount requested for repair is reasonable
  • Go to mediation
  • Sue the neighbor for reimbursement

Tree Trimming Along Property Lines

Trees and shrubs can add value to your home, but they can also cause problems between neighbors. For example, tree branches can hang over a fence, dropping leaves in the neighbor's pool. Trees roots can also cause damage to sidewalks and nearby structures. How you handle a problematic tree depends on where it's located.

  • Branches that Overhang into your Property: Generally, you may cut branches so long as it does not damage the health or structure of a tree.
  • Tree Roots: You may not remove tree roots that encroach onto your property. Once the roots cause damage to your property, you can sue for compensation, and probably make your neighbor remove them.
  • Trees on Your Property Line: Illinois case law states that if any part of a tree trunk crosses the property line, it's a jointly owned tree. A neighbor can stop the other from removing the tree.
  • Damage Caused by Your Trees: You have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent your tree from harming your neighbors.

Spite Fences in Illinois

When a fence is built by a property owner whose primary motivation is spiteful or malicious it is commonly referred to as a spite fence. Although there is not a state spite fence law, such cases can be addressed under nuisance law principles. A balancing test will be applied to weigh the negative effect on the aggrieved landowner's use and enjoyment of their property against the value of the structure to the fence owner. Such structure may also be addressed as being in violation of local ordinances, zoning codes, or homeowner's association regulations.

Fences and Local Ordinances

Your home may be your castle, but there is a growing list of agencies that have a say in what you can and cannot do to fence your property. In addition to the State of Illinois, your right to have a fence and its general appearance are impacted by county and city laws, utility and wildlife easements, and any applicable homeowner association rules. Plus, you likely will need a building permit to construct or replace a fence. Cities with fence ordinances include:

Get Legal Assistance with Your Property Line Issue

Disputes with neighbors can be difficult to resolve. Both sides often feel like they have a right to modify their property to suit their own personal needs. If an agreement can't be reached through discussion, you can get help from an experienced real estate attorney. Find an Illinois real estate attorney near you and take the first step toward resolving your dispute.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.