Fencing in back gardens normally runs between two properties – but whose job is it to repair damaged fencing or re-paint fence panels that look tired and worn?
There are countless reasons you may need to establish which back garden fences belong to your property – whether you need to deal with fencing blown over in strong winds or wish to update your garden with a new border.
We all want to avoid neighbourly disputes, and it can be tricky if you’d like to carry out repairs, but the family next door isn’t interested in contributing!
Today we’ll run through a few guidelines to help you understand how ownership of back garden fences works and what you should do if you’re unsure.
How to Check Which Back Garden Fences Belong to You
First, let’s clarify that there isn’t a simple answer, such as every property owns the fence to the right or the left – it doesn’t quite work like that (contrary to popular myths!).
You can take a look at your fencing to try and get a reasonable idea about who owns what:
- Fencing and walls are typically built on the land belonging to the owner – so if your fencing is constructed on frames that sit on your land – or your neighbour’s – you can make an educated guess about who originally erected the fencing.
- Panels have a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ side (although neither is necessarily negative!). Fencing faces inwards, so if you have the rear side of the panels looking into your garden, your neighbour probably owns the fence.
If neither homeowner knows, and you have an amicable discussion about carrying out some fencing repairs, this general principle is usually enough to help you gain clarity.
However, it isn’t set in stone, and if there is any hint of a dispute, you’ll want to make sure you’re legally in the right before you take any action.
Using Title Deeds to Establish Back Garden Fencing Ownership
The only sure-fire way to be certain who owns which fence and who is, therefore, responsible for repairs is to have a look at the title deeds, which you’ll have received when you originally purchased your home.
If you haven’t got the documents to hand, you can check with the Land Registry or contact your conveyancer, who should be able to help.
When you’ve got the plan in front of you:
- A T mark means that you own that side of the boundary.
- An H (two connected T’s) means that both properties share the border.
Fencing owned jointly means you’re both obliged to contribute 50/50 towards upkeep – but there isn’t any mandatory responsibility to carry out repairs, so it could get sticky if damaged fencing doesn’t bother your neighbour.
Another option is to negotiate, say paying for the fencing repairs this time, provided your neighbour reciprocates next time.
As an alternative, you might consider buying out the property boundary from the next-door owners, which is a legal process whereby you propose a formal sale.
Can My Neighbour Replace or Remove a Fence Without My Consent?
If you have a fenced boundary between your garden and the adjacent home, and the panels need to be repaired or replaced, the person that owns the fencing (as indicated on the title deeds or mutually agreed) is free to carry out work as they wish.
However, it is good practice to chat with your neighbours beforehand, let them know what you have planned, and ensure there aren’t any issues with the size, colour or type of fencing – and vice versa.
For example, if your neighbours have pets or children, they might need to limit access to the garden during the fencing work for safety reasons, so it’s well worth taking the time to discuss.
Otherwise, you can replace old fencing, or swap fences for new panels, without any planning permission in most cases – provided the fence is in your back garden and isn’t excessively high.
Most garden fence panels are a standard six-foot square since this makes the height 182 cm, which falls under the two-metre planning permission cap for fencing to the front of your property.
The only potential caveat is where one neighbour wants to replace wooden fencing with concrete posts and base slabs.
In this situation, you can request the concrete elements be erected on your neighbour’s side of the boundary (and then have space to erect a new wooden fence later on).
What Are the Exceptions to Back Garden Fencing Maintenance Rules?
While we’ve established that back garden fencing is somewhat up to the property owners, there are some situations where you are legally obliged to maintain your garden fences, and replace damage, even if that is caused by poor weather.
Those scenarios include:
- Where you are having building work carried out next to a road or pathway – the fencing is a safety precaution to ensure construction doesn’t pose a hazard to vehicles or pedestrians.
- Next to disused mines or quarries, to prevent the risk of severe injury and falls.
- Around properties where the owner keeps livestock, or if the next-door land is residential, to ensure animals don’t stray away from their fields.
- If you live next to a railway line.
Otherwise, you can change or replace back garden fencing as you wish, and don’t have any legal requirement to erect new fencing.
Homeowners can normally build back garden fences right up to the boundary line.
Most planning rules apply only to front gardens, where the fencing looks over the roadway, so they usually only matter if your fences are over two metres.
However, you should ask for permission if you want to hang things like hanging baskets or paint on a fence that belongs to your neighbour.
If in any doubt, we’d recommend speaking to your neighbour before you make any decisions.
An informal agreement is normally the best way to ensure your fences are suitable for both properties and provide privacy and safety while adding value to your outdoor spaces.