We’re all used to seeing fences around gardens of individual houses but in most cases there’s actually no legal obligation to fence off the boundaries of your home. The exception is:
- Around building sites adjacent to highways, both road and path: Highways Act 1980;
- Around disused mines: Mines and Quarries Act 1954;
- To prevent livestock from straying from their fields: Animals Act 1971;
- Alongside railways: Railways Consolidation Act 1845.
These regulations are in place for safety reasons but generally, a fence is erected to give a homeowner a bit of privacy.
After we first posted on fence ownership, we received lots of comments about issues people were having with sorting their fences. We’ve answered the most common ones below to help you make sense of all things concerning fences, including who’s responsible for repairing them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who owns a fence, me or my neighbour?
Contrary to popular belief, there’s no rule that says the fences on the left side of your home belong to you. The transfer or conveyance deed might state who owns it, but if it’s not in writing, then look out for any T-mark to the boundaries. The stalk of the ‘T’ will sit on the boundary and come out into your garden or property, which means that fence is your responsibility. If responsibility for the boundary is shared, like in the case of a party fence wall, for instance, then a H-mark (two T-marks mirrored on the boundary line) is the symbol conventionally used and it’ll indicate that any repair bills should be split 50/50.
If the deeds don’t make it clear who owns a fence, then you may need to dig out the Seller’s Property Information Form which you can find at https://www.lawsociety.org.uk.
It’s sometimes possible to establish who’s responsible for a fence by working out who owns which fence along the same side of the street.
Can I make my neighbour repair their fence?
There’s no law which says your neighbour has to repair their fence, even if it’s rotting away and making the side of your property look bad. While you could opt for a boundary demarcation and hire a disputes expert to write a report, you could end up wasting your money as it’s unlikely they’d change their mind. What you could do instead is leave the old fence where it is and erect another one right next to it. The boundary would then be a thin line that runs between the two fences, even if they’re touching each other.
How high can a fence be?
Fences in back gardens can be up to 2 metres high. If you’re wanting it to be higher, you’ll need to get planning permission. For the latest information, head to the Planning Portal.
Is my neighbour allowed to have the “good” side of the fence facing towards them?
There’s no law that says the “good” side (for example, the side with the smoother wood) of the fence should face your neighbour.
Can I attach something to my neighbour’s fence?
You can only hang things on your neighbour’s fence, paint it, or use it to support your plants with their permission. Leaning or hanging things on the fence or using it as a makeshift retaining wall will result in a much heavier burden on the supporting posts and panels of the fence than it was designed to bear. This might cause damage and you’d be liable for the cost of any repairs. What’s more, you’ll still have to get the work done and pay for it, so it could cost more than you bargained for. If you need help repairing the fence, a professional gardener can lend a hand.
Anything you do to your neighbour’s fence without permission, including staining or applying preservative to your side of the fence, is tantamount to criminal damage.
Can my neighbour put up, replace or remove a fence without my permission?
If the boundary for the front of the property is less than 4 inches high, then planning permission isn’t required. However, if your neighbour has decided to put up a fence, they need to put this in writing and give you 30 days’ notice ahead of the work going ahead, otherwise you can take them to court. If they’ve given you notice and you’ve failed to respond, a civil court can rule that you have to pay for half of the fence. The same thing applies if it’s you wanting to put up the fence.
When it comes to replacing an old fence, they can alter the height and material (but they’d need to get planning permission if it was over 2 metres). They can also decide to get it taken down and they wouldn’t need to install a new one. If the old fence is made of wood, and your neighbour wants to replace it with a concrete one, you can insist the new concrete posts and base slabs be erected entirely on their side of the boundary line, so you can erect your own wooden fence with new posts later on. Also, it doesn’t matter who had the “good side” of the old fence.
How close can I build to my neighbour’s fence?
You can build up to a boundary line as long as you get planning permission for it (see 4-inch rule above). If your neighbour is the one planning on the build and you’re concerned that it might block the light coming into a window, the best thing to do is to voice your concerns and try to persuade them to build in a way that reduces the impact on you.
If that isn’t possible, you should check the local building regulations. Perhaps the plans would be a fire hazard or breach other safety laws. Of course, this also applies to you if you plan on building close to their fence, so it’s worth checking the Planning Portal to see what’s possible before you start planning work.