Fences serve many purposes: to 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. As explained below, there are restrictions on where the fence can be placed and the type of fence they can build. But they can build one if they choose.
That said, except in a few specific situations, no one has to build a fence. There is no general law requiring a fence between 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, if the dog goes outside, in 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 you 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 is 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, this fence is theirs. They are the only owner and they must pay for it.
If the fence is on the property line, the neighbours on either side are legally equal partners. Generally, they must each pay half the cost of building or repairing the fence. But there are exceptions.
|Situation||Who pays what|
You want a more expensive fence built
You must pay the extra amount
You have not tried to reach an agreement with your neighbour
You must pay the entire cost of the fence or repairs
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 intentionally or by being negligent
You must pay the entire cost of repairing or replacing the fence
You make urgent repairs to a fence
In most cases you can get back some of the cost of the repairs from your neighbour
What type of fence can be built
Most cities and towns in BC have local bylaws setting out rules for the kind of fence you can put up. They typically say what materials can (and can’t) be used, how high a fence can be, and whether there are other restrictions on the type of fence that can be built.
For example, in many communities, a fence between residential properties can’t be made from barbed wire or razor wire, or be electrified.
The maximum height for a fence often varies based on the zoning of the property and the fence’s location on the property—for example, the fence in a front yard can’t be over 4 feet, and the fence in side and back yards can’t be over 6 feet.
In many communities, if a property is located on a corner lot, the height of a fence cannot obstruct the sightlines for vehicles at the intersection.
You can check with your city or town hall to find the fence bylaw that applies in your community. The website CivicInfo allows you to 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 on what kind of fence you can build. A strata property’s bylaws, for example, may dictate the style, size and maintenance of the fence or 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 you’re planning to build the fence on your side of the property line (and so don’t need your neighbour’s agreement to build it), people appreciate being consulted about changes to a neighbouring property that can affect their views or their property.
If you want to install the fence on the property line with a neighbour’s property, you have to talk with your neighbour. You need their agreement on the type of fence and the cost. You can’t impose a shared fence without giving your neighbour a chance to control its cost.
You don’t (typically) need a building permit
Generally, a building permit is not required to build a fence. However, many communities have local bylaws requiring a building permit in specific situations—for example, if the fence is to be built on top of a retaining wall or around a swimming pool.
Before you start building the fence, find out if there are any restrictions on your property. For example, fences are not permitted across an easement unless they are specifically allowed under the easement.
It is your responsibility to locate the property line accurately. You can search the BC Land Title & Survey Office to see if it has a land survey for the property, which will show the property line. Or you can hire a registered BC land surveyor to come to the property and identify the property line.
Before you make a final plan for your fence, consider any nearby trees and plants that may grow toward or above it. For example, there may be tree roots that could interfere with your fence, or a tree with heavy branches that might drop and damage it.
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. Under BC law, it is illegal to remove or tamper with them.
Call before you dig. You can contact BC One Call at 1-800-474-6886 to find out what is buried on your property, such as pipelines, telecommunications cables, water and sewage lines, and electrical wires. Knowing what is under your property reduces the risk of accidents when digging.
If a fence crosses into a neighbour’s property
Sometimes it comes to light that a fence between two properties is not actually on the property line. This can cause conflict, particularly where a fence built by one property owner partly encloses their neighbour’s land.
Under BC law, either neighbour can apply to court for a resolution. The court can do one of three things:
- Order removal: Order the “encroaching owner” to remove the fence so that it no longer encloses any part of their neighbour’s land.
- Grant an easement: Grant the encroaching owner an easement over the enclosed land, and award the neighbour compensation for the easement.
- Transfer title: Give the encroaching owner title to the enclosed land, and award the neighbour compensation for the transfer.
In deciding what to do, a court will look at:
- Knowledge of the encroaching owner: Was the intrusion accidental or intentional? The court will be more likely to order removal of the fence where the encroaching owner deliberately or deceptively built onto the neighbouring property.
- 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.
- Practicalities: How costly would the removal of the fence be for the encroaching owner? If relocating the fence would be expensive (because, for example, the fence is made from concrete), the court will be more likely to grant an easement or transfer title rather than order removal.
Where a fence intrudes onto adjoining property, either neighbour can apply to court under BC law, seeking a resolution. The application is by petition in BC Supreme Court. An application by petition is generally quicker and less expensive than a full legal action. The entire process can take one or two months between 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 a fence is along a property line, property owners on both sides are expected to contribute equally to its upkeep.
Under this BC law, the owners of adjacent land in a rural area must keep up and repair the fence between their land. Each of the owners is liable to the other for half of any cost reasonably incurred for the 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 want to build a fence, start by explaining why a fence is important to you. It's hard (for example) to protest a fence that is intended to keep children safe. Describe the type of fence you are planning, its location, and the estimated cost. If you want to build a fence right along the property line, you need your neighbour’s agreement (see above under “Understand your legal rights”). Invite the neighbour to explore options that will work for both of you.
If you’re concerned about a neighbour’s fence—for example, that it’s too high or intrudes onto your property—start by explaining your concerns. If you help your neighbour understand how the fence negatively affects you, it can be easier to explore solutions together.
If you want to build or repair a fence, it can help to get a written quote from one to three contractors about the cost. That way, when you talk with your neighbour, they have concrete options to consider. If the neighbour agrees to proceed, you can both sign a copy of the successful quote and write out the amount you each agree to pay. This will reduce the risk of problems later.
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. Here’s an example. Let’s 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 sun from shining on your vegetable garden.
- Say what you think they can do to resolve the situation. For example: reduce the height of the fence by two feet.
- Tell them your intentions if they refuse. For example: you will contact the local municipality to ask them to consider the problem.
Step 3. Try mediation
If you are unable to resolve the matter directly with your neighbour, you could consider mediation. This involves you and your neighbour meeting with a mediator, who works to help you reach an agreement. Mediation is much less expensive and quicker than taking legal action, and 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/Neighbourhood” 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, if you’re concerned that your neighbour’s fence doesn’t comply with local bylaws (such as rules about a fence’s height, materials or placement), one option is to make a complaint to your municipality. Contact your city or town to find out who is responsible for enforcing the relevant bylaw. After getting 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 is not allowed by the local bylaws, you can seek a relaxation of the rules. You can go before your municipality’s “Board of Variance” and explain how the restriction in question causes you hardship.
Step 5. Take legal action
If all of the above steps have not resolved the problem, you could consider taking 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 is an online system that encourages a collaborative approach to resolving disputes.
Taking legal action against a neighbour will almost certainly strain your relationship. Since you and your neighbour will continue living side by side, you will want to think carefully about whether to take legal action.
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 to building a fence along the property line, you can build a fence entirely on your own side of the property line. As such, it is especially important that you properly locate the property line and build your fence so that maintenance and repairs can be done entirely on your side.
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 your neighbour’s agreement or a court order.
A fence built on the property line belongs to both property owners. Both of you are responsible for the upkeep of the fence and cannot take it down without the other’s permission.