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Fences and Neighbours - What you should know

What you should know

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 BC, you can search across local government websites province-wide 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 authority 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 BC, you can search across local government websites province-wide 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 authority. If they have 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 the property line 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 an offence under the Criminal Code.

Call before you dig. You can contact BC 1 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.