You've just moved into a new home and you want to put in a fence. You think the neighbors should split the cost since it will be separating both your properties. Your neighbors don't want a fence and refuse to pay. Can you force them to pay for a fence they don't want?
The answer is that it depends on where you live. The state of Missouri has two distinct sets of fence law and which one applies depends on the county in which you live. So if you're having a disagreement with your neighbor, a review of Missouri property line and fence laws may provide the answers that you need.
Quick Look: Missouri Property Line and Fence Laws
This chart summarizes key Missouri laws relevant to property line and fence disputes.
|Local Option vs. General Rule||Local Option:
|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.
Missouri Fence Law Basics
Until 1963, Missouri had one general fence law. That year, legislation was passed allowing counties to switch to the new law, called the "Local Option." Some counties switched, but many retained the general law. Then in 2001, the state legislature update the general fence law to reflect the decreased importance of livestock in rural areas.
Regardless of which law a county follows, these state laws only apply in unincorporated areas. So even though 97 percent of Missouri is considered rural, only about 30 percent of the state's population live in a region where state fence law is active.
Which Counties Follow the Local Option
It's up to the individual counties and their voters to decide which law to follow. Most of the Local Option counties are in northern Missouri, and as of 2017 the 18 counties listed below are following this set of laws:
Major Differences Between the Two Fence Laws
Missouri's two fence laws will provide two very different solutions to a typical neighbor dispute. For the most part, the general law places responsibility for the construction and maintenance on the neighbor who "needs" the fence. So if you have a horse, or any other livestock, the fence is your responsibility. If your neighbor is also keeping livestock, then the cost is shared. In a local option county, your neighbor could force you to pay for the cost of their fence, even if you don't need or want one.
Another important difference concerns landowner liability. Under the general law, payment of actual damages caused by trespassing livestock is required in certain cases, while the new law requires payment of double damages in most cases. Plus if livestock get out through your portion of the fence, the local option gives you no legal right to collect damages of any kind.
Cities in Missouri Have Fence Laws
If two sets of fence laws weren't enough, a city or subdivision within each of Missouri's 114 counties can also have their own fence ordinances and building codes. For example, the Fences and Walls Ordinance in the City of Kansas City outlines the minimum requirements for building a fence or wall. So if a dispute involves the construction and maintenance of a fence, you must also review your city or subdivision's rules.
Trees Along Property Lines
Property owners not only own the land under their feet, but also the airspace above their land. When a neighbor's tree limbs reach across your land, you can trim them back to the property line. The same rule applies to tree roots.
But be careful. A Missouri court has held that no damage claims are allowed when those branches and roots damage your property unless the tree was damaged, diseased, or destroyed. But if your trimming activities accidently damage the health of your neighbor's tree, you could owe them three times the replacement value of the tree!
Got a Property Line Dispute? Get Help From a Local Real Estate Attorney
Hiring an attorney may seem like an extreme response to a neighbor dispute. However, emotions can quickly get out of control in these situations and even sour once-friendly relationships in your neighborhood. If a property line dispute is ruining the enjoyment of your home, consider speaking with a real estate attorney near you to learn more about your legal options and the path forward.
Contact a qualified attorney.