Property Line and Fence Laws in Massachusetts

Imagine you come home one afternoon to find your neighbors have completely enclosed their property with a barbed-wire fence! Not only does it make you feel like you're living next to a prison, the unsightly fence hurts your property value. What can you do?

Massachusetts property line and fence law is designed to help resolve many common, and some not so common, neighbor disputes.

Quick Look: Massachusetts Property Line and Fence Law

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

State Statutes
Remedies for Encroachment When a neighbor place a structure that intrudes on (or over) your land, you can:
  • Provide a written agreement for the use
  • Request the removal of the encroaching structure
  • Get a survey of your property
  • File a complaint with your city's zoning or permit department
  • File an action in court
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.

Massachusetts Fence and Property Line Laws Basics

When you're having a property dispute with a neighbor, it's difficult to know what to do. If you don't enforce your property line, you risk losing your property rights to the contested land. Fortunately, Massachusetts has well developed state and local laws on fences, trees and property lines that can help settle many disagreements.

For example, when you're looking to build a fence, check your local fence ordinances. City or county laws often dictate the height, location, and appearance of a fence. State law applies to property in unincorporated areas.

What is a Fence Viewer's Role is Resolving Disputes?

According to State law, each town must annually appoint two or more fence viewers to settle fencing disputes. This position was first established in 1693. These early fence viewers were tasked with arbitrating or prosecuting fence crimes by adjoining farmers. Trespassing by livestock was illegal. Boundaries and fences had to be maintained.

Today, any citizen can request a Fence Viewer to view a fence to see that it is in good repair, and in case of disputes between neighbors, works to resolve their differences. Problems such as size, condition, and distance from property lines are common complaints handled by fence viewers.

When are You Required to Share Fence Costs?

The state requires landowners on both sides of a boundary fence to share construction and maintenance costs, unless other arrangements were made. If a neighbor doesn't pay, the other can file a complaint with the county's designated fence viewer, and collect twice the amount of the delinquent owner's share. If payment still isn't made after 30 days, the neighbor can sue and add one percent per month as interest penalty.

Can You Make a Neighbor Cut Their Trees?

Property owners have a right to trees, and neighbors will find it difficult to dispute that right. Plus, most property owners do not have a right to a view or sunlight. So there are few instances where you can force a neighbor to trim or cut down a healthy tree. However, when a neighbor's tree growth begins to interrupt the use and enjoyment of your property and a private resolution can't be reached, you can bring a private nuisance claim.

When branches reach across the property line, you can trim them up to your property line. However, if you damage the health of the tree or trim branches on your neighbor's property, you can face criminal penalties of up to six months in jail.

What is the law on trees and plants on a property boundary line?

Ownership of a tree is determined by the location of its trunk even if the branches cross onto another property. If a tree is directly on the boundary line, then the tree is owned by both property owners. This means that the tree cannot be removed or significantly altered unless both property owners agree.

Spite Fences and Your Right to Sunlight

What if you're in an argument with your neighbor and you come home to find a huge wall between your properties? Let's say half of your home is cast in the shadow of this fence. Although landowners typically don't have a legal right to a view or sunlight, you may be protected by Massachusetts' spite fence law if the fence was built primarily out of ill will.

A fence or other structure which unnecessarily exceeds six feet in height and is constructed with the primary purpose of annoying the occupants of adjoining property will be deemed a private nuisance under this law. Any injured owner or occupant can pursue a tort action for damages. Remember, you must prove to a court that your neighbor built the fence for malicious purposes.

Get Property Dispute Relief from a Legal Professional

Don't let a property line disagreement turn into a neighborhood feud. When you can't settle an issue on your own, a real estate attorney can help you cut through the emotions and find a legal resolution. Get started today and learn more about Massachusetts fence and boundary line law by contacting a Massachusetts real estate attorney near you.

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