It's natural for homeowners to want control over their property. After all, that's the benefit of ownership. However, decisions affecting the exterior of one's home, its landscaping, and fences can affect neighboring properties as well. For example, a shade tree near your home can become a leaf-dropping nuisance in your neighbor's pool. Before a disagreement gets out of hand, review Indiana's property line and fence law to better understand your rights and responsibilities.
Quick Look: Indiana Property Line and Fence Laws
This chart highlights some of Indiana state laws relevant to property line and fence disputes. Your dispute can also be governed by county, city or home owner association rules that are not listed here.
|Spite Fence Law||To have a structure declared a Spite Fence, you must show:
|Local Fence Regulations|
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.
Indiana Fence Law Basics
Fences are a common part of the Indiana landscape. Whether the fences are separating backyards or large tracks of agricultural land, disputes can arise whenever neighboring property owners have different views on their common border. State fence law is focused on separating agricultural lands.
If one landowner refuses to construct or maintain their share of a fence line, the neighbor can file a complaint with the trustee of the township in which the line fence is located. However, the landowner seeking the assistance must build or repair his share and provide a notice to build or repair to the refusing neighbor.
Is All Property Covered by Indiana Fence Law?
Even though your property is in Indiana, it doesn't mean that Indiana's state fence law applies. As was stated in the previous section, the state laws are designed to protect livestock and agricultural interests in rural parts of the state. Residential properties in cities, towns, or municipalities are largely governed by local laws. The Partition Fence Law lists the property covered by the law:
Determining Responsibility for a Partition Fence
A partition fence is one that is used to divide neighboring plots of land. Under the Indiana Partition Fence Law, adjacent landowners are required to share the burden of building partition fences, so long as one property is agricultural land located outside town or city limit. This applies even if only one property owners benefit from or use the fence. Land is considered agricultural when it is:
Using a Fence Viewer to Resolve Disputes
Many people have never heard of a fence viewer until there's a problem. Indiana law provides for fence viewers to serve an out-of-court dispute resolution function. These viewers are usually ordinary citizens appointed by a local official. Upon request, the fence viewer inspects a property, considers whether the fence needs repair at all, and whether the amount sought by the neighbor is reasonable. The decision of the viewers is binding on the neighbors, although it can be appealed to a court.
Local Ordinances and Zoning Rules Effecting Fences
Nearly 70 percent of all Indianans live in towns and cities that are governed by local rules set out in zoning laws, building ordinances and homeowner's association covenants. These rules are designed to replace the state fence rules. For example, the City of Indianapolis has zoning rules that regulates the height and location of a fence that are different from the state. Plus, a local homeowner's association can make even more restrictive rules governing color, or placement of a fence, or disallow a fence that is otherwise acceptable to the city.
Indiana Spite Fence Law
Indiana has no patience with property owners who construct spite fences. In Indiana, the spite fence statute evaluates whether a structure is to be deemed a private nuisance and should be removed. It is described in the law as a barrier "unnecessarily exceeding six feet in height, maliciously erected for the purpose of annoying the owners or occupants of adjoining property."
An injured landowner may bring a civil action for damages and removal of the nuisance. Even if a fence is constructed with the necessary local permits, it can still be found in violation of the state spite fence statute. The finding is based on the neighbor-builder's state of mind.
Trees Along Property Lines
Overhanging branches, invasive root systems, and falling debris can all cause tension with your neighbors. Ordinarily, you have the right to trim back invading branches and roots up to your property line. However, if you significantly harm or kill the tree, you may be liable for damaging your neighbor's property.
When the ownership of a tree is in dispute, the law typically looks to the location of the trunk. If the tree is squarely on the property line, the tree cannot be removed without both neighbors agreeing. However, it can be argued that when the tree was planted it was located on one property.
Got a Property Line Dispute? Contact a Local Attorney for Help
A property line dispute with your neighbor can make you dread coming home. It doesn't have to be that way. When you can't resolve the issue on your own, it may be time to hire an experienced real estate attorney who can provide you with legal options and, if needed, file a complaint in court. If you have a property line dispute, consider reaching out to an attorney near you today to help get it resolved.
Contact a qualified attorney.