Fences serve many purposes. They can mark property boundaries, keep pets or children safe, offer privacy, or limit unwanted guests. But they can also lead to tensions and conflicts. Neighbours may disagree about where a fence can be built, what type of fence to build, or who should bear the cost of building or repairing a fence. Learn how to deal with problems involving fences and neighbours.
Property owners can build a fence around their property
In BC, property owners are allowed to build a fence (or plant a hedge) around their property. Some rules restrict what kind of fence is allowed and where it can be placed, as explained below.
Except in a few specific situations, no one is required to build a fence. No law says a fence must divide neighbouring properties; most people simply agree to have one. However, in some specific situations, a fence can be legally required. For example:
- Some communities have local bylaws that require swimming pools to be fenced.
- Many communities have local bylaws that require dog owners to keep their dog within a securely fenced area.
- Some housing developments (for example, some strata properties) have bylaws that require fencing around individual units or common property.
On the website CivicInfo, you can search across BC local government websites to find local bylaws relating to fences in your community. In the search box, type in “fence bylaw [community name]”.
Where a fence can be built
There are rules on where a fence can be placed. A property owner can build a fence anywhere on their side of the dividing line between two properties (also called the “property line”). If a property owner wants to put a fence right along the property line, they can do so only if the owner of the adjacent property agrees.
A person can’t build a fence on property that’s not theirs — unless they get permission to do so.
It is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure they locate the property line accurately. A land survey can help identify the location of a property line. A survey will show the location of the iron pins in the ground (known as “survey monuments”) that mark the property corners and boundaries.
If there's a dispute about where a fence should go, a land survey will show the location of a property line between adjoining properties. You can search the BC Land Title & Survey Office to see if a land survey is part of the public record for a property. You can also hire a registered BC land surveyor to come to the property and identify the property line.
Who is responsible for the cost of a fence
If a property owner installs a fence completely on their side of the property line, the fence is theirs. And so is the bill for it.
If the fence is on the property line, the neighbours on either side are, legally, equal partners in the fence. Generally, each must pay half the cost of building or repairing the fence. But there are exceptions.
|Situation||Who pays what|
You want a fancier fence than is strictly necessary
You must pay the extra amount
You haven't tried to reach an agreement with your neighbour
The cost of the fence is entirely on you
Your property borders land owned by the government
In most cases, you will be responsible for the full cost of the fence
You have damaged a fence — either intentionally or through being negligent
You bear the full cost of repairing or replacing the fence
You make urgently needed repairs to a fence
In most cases, you can recover some of those costs from your neighbour
What type of fence can be built
Most cities and towns in BC have local bylaws that determine the kind of fence you can put up. These bylaws set the rules: what materials you can (and can’t) use, how high the fence can be, and so on.
For example, in many communities, a fence between residential properties can’t be made from barbed wire or razor wire. It can't be electrified.
Maximum fence height often varies based on the zoning of the property and where the fence is on the property. Typically, a front-yard fence can be no more than four feet high. Side and back fences can be up to six feet high.
On corner lot properties, another factor may be in play: traffic. In many communities, a fence on a corner lot can’t obstruct the sightlines of drivers at the intersection.
Check with your city or town hall to find the fence bylaw that applies in your community. On the website CivicInfo, you can search across BC local government websites to find bylaws relating to fences in your community.
If you live in a planned community or a strata property, there may be additional rules around fence building. A strata property’s bylaws, for example, may dictate the style, size and maintenance requirements of the fence. Or they may not allow a fence at all.
If you want to build a fence
If you’re thinking of building a fence, talk with the neighbours who live in adjoining properties.
Even if the fence will be on your land — in which case you don’t strictly need your neighbour’s agreement to build it — people appreciate being consulted about changes that can affect their views or their property value.
To be clear, if you want to build a fence along the property line, you must consult your neighbour. You can’t simply impose a shared fence on them. You two need to agree on the type of the fence and the cost.
Do you need a building permit?
Typically, no. However, many communities have local bylaws requiring a building permit in certain situations. For example, if you’re putting up a fence on a retaining wall or around a swimming pool, you’ll usually need a permit.
Before you start the actual fence building, find out if there are any restrictions on your property. For example, fences aren’t permitted across an easement unless they’re specifically allowed under that easement.
It’s your responsibility to find the correct property line. You can search the BC Land Title & Survey Office. If the office has a land survey for the property, it’ll show the property line. Otherwise, you can hire a registered BC land surveyor to come out and find it for you.
Before you make a final plan for your fence, consider the nearby trees and plants. There may be tree roots that could interfere with your fence — now or in the future. A tree with an overhanging canopy might drop a heavy branch on your handiwork.
When you’re building the fence
When building the fence, don’t move any survey monuments that mark the corners or boundaries of the property. This is illegal under BC law.
Call before you dig. You can contact BC One Call (for free) at 1-800-474-6886 to find out what's buried on your property, such as pipelines, telecommunications cables, water and sewage lines, and electrical wires. Knowing what's under your property reduces the risk of accidents when digging.
If a fence crosses into a neighbour’s property
Sometimes it turns out a fence isn’t on the property line after all. This can cause conflict, particularly where a fence you built is actually in your neighbour’s yard.
Under BC law, either neighbour can apply to court for a resolution. The court can do one of three things:
- Order removal. The “encroaching owner” must dismantle any part of the fence that is enclosing the neighbour’s land.
- Grant an easement. The encroaching owner is allowed to keep the fence where it is. But the neighbour is awarded compensation for the easement.
- Transfer title. The encroaching owner receives title to the enclosed land. The neighbour is compensated for the transfer.
In deciding which of these three courses of action to take, a court will consider:
- The intentions of the encroaching owner. Was this an accident or a knowing intrusion? The court will be more likely to order the fence removed if the encroaching owner seems to have deliberately built onto the neighbouring property.
- The extent of the intrusion. How much does the fence intrude? If the diversion from the property line is minor, the court will be less likely to order removal and more likely to grant an easement or transfer of title.
- The practicalities. How costly would it be to remove or relocate the fence? If it’s an expensive proposition — say, the fence is made of concrete — the court will more likely grant an easement or transfer title, rather than order removal.
Where a fence intrudes onto adjoining property, either neighbour can seek a resolution under BC law. This can be done through an application by petition in BC Supreme Court. This route is generally quicker and cheaper than a full legal action. The entire process can take one or two months between the delivery of materials and the hearing.
Keeping a fence in good repair
Many cities and towns in BC have local bylaws requiring property owners to maintain their fence in good repair. If the fence runs along a property line, property owners on both sides are expected to contribute equally to its upkeep.
In rural areas, the owners of adjacent properties must maintain and repair the fence between them, according to this BC law. Each owner is liable to the other for half of any cost reasonably incurred for upkeep and repair.
Step 1. Talk with your neighbour
Whether you’re thinking of building a fence or you’re concerned about a neighbour’s fence, the first step is to try talking with your neighbour. Explain your plans or concerns, and ask for their thoughts.
If you’re the fence builder, start by explaining why you want it. (It's hard to argue against, say, a fence intended to keep children safe.) Describe the type of fence you’re planning, its location, and its estimated cost. If you aim to put it right on the property line, you need your neighbour’s consent (see above under “Understand your legal rights”). Invite the neighbour to explore options that will work for both of you.
If you have issues with a neighbour’s fence — for example, it’s too high or it intrudes onto your property — explain your concerns. If your neighbour understands where you’re coming from, it can be easier to explore solutions together.
If you want to build or repair a fence, it can help to get a written cost quote from one to three contractors. That way, you and your neighbour have concrete options to consider. If the neighbour agrees to proceed, you can both sign a copy of the successful quote and the amount you each agree to pay. This can prevent problems down the line.
Step 2. Write a letter to your neighbour
If talking with your neighbour doesn’t resolve matters, you can write a letter setting out your plans or concerns. For example, say you’re concerned with the height of a neighbour’s planned new fence. In your letter to your neighbour:
- Explain your concerns. For example: the fence is higher than what is allowed under the local bylaws, and it will block the sunshine on your vegetable garden.
- Suggest ways the situation might be resolved. For example: reduce the height of the fence by two feet.
- Reveal your intentions if they outright refuse. For example: you’ll get the municipality involved.
Step 3. Try mediation
If you're unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, you could consider mediation. This involves you and your neighbour meeting with a mediator, who'll work to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is quicker and much less expensive than taking legal action. And it can help preserve a good neighbourly relationship.
On the Mediate BC website, you can search for a mediator based on the community you live in and the type of problem you have. Selecting “Community” under Practice Areas can help narrow your search.
Step 4. Contact your municipality
Whether you’re concerned about a neighbour’s fence or planning to build a fence, there can be circumstances that lead you to contact your local municipality.
For example, you may suspect your neighbour’s fence doesn’t comply with local bylaws, such as rules about a fence’s height, materials or placement. In this case, find out who’s responsible for enforcing the relevant bylaw. After receiving your complaint, the municipality may inspect the problem and order your neighbour to fix it by issuing a notice of bylaw violation.
If, in building a fence, you want to do something that isn’t allowed under the local bylaws, you can seek a relaxation of the rules. This will require you to appear before your municipality’s “Board of Variance” to explain how the restriction in question causes you hardship.
Step 5. Take legal action
If none of the above steps have resolved the problem, it may be time to consider legal action. For example, if your neighbour has built a fence that encloses part of your property, you could start an action for trespass. You could also apply to court for a resolution under this BC law. See “Understand your legal rights” above for details.
If your claim is for less than $35,000, you can bring a legal action in Small Claims Court. It’s faster and less complicated than suing in the British Columbia Supreme Court.
If your claim is for less than $5,000, it will be heard by the Civil Resolution Tribunal. This online system encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes.
Taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship — no small matter since you’re living side by side. Think of it, therefore, as a last resort.
What if my neighbour doesn’t agree to building a fence?
If you want to build a fence along the property line, you can do so only if the owner of the adjacent property agrees. It makes no difference if you intend to pay the total cost.
If your neighbour doesn’t agree, your best bet is to build the fence so that it falls entirely on your side of the property line. As such, it’s especially important that you accurately locate the property line. (See “Understand your legal rights,” above.)
Can I replace the fence that runs along my property line?
If you intend to remove or alter an existing fence along a property line, you must have either your neighbour’s agreement or a court order.
A fence built on the property line belongs to both property owners. You are jointly responsible for the upkeep of the fence. Neither can take it down without the other’s permission.