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Dividing fences are the source of a great deal of angst between new (and not so new) neighbours.

Rights and obligations of neighbours are covered by the Dividing Fences Act 1961. It is a good idea to discuss any fencing matter with your local authority before proceeding unilaterally without consulting your neighbour.

In relation to dividing fences, the Department of Housing and Works has produced an excellent booklet – “Dividing Fences a guide”, which can be freely downloaded from here.

If you are looking to address an issue with a dividing fence, your first course of action should be to obtain a written agreement with your neighbour about the fence. However, where the adjoining land is vacant you can erect a fence without the neighbour’s permission but you cannot legally recover any costs from the adjoining owner until the vacant block has been built on.

At that stage you can claim for half the fence cost as estimated at the date of claim. If you subsequently sell your house this right to claim is lost. This claim cannot be passed on to the new owner.

The adjoining neighbour is legally required to pay a claim within one month of receipt. A longer payment time can be set in place by agreement between the parties.

Even if the adjoining owner did not like the fence you erected, if it is a “sufficient” fence (minimum standard), acceptable to the local authority and in keeping with other fences in the area, he has a liability to pay when the land is developed. A minimum standard fence may be specified in a town planning scheme or be a developer covenant.

If the fence is of a better than minimum standard eg if a brick fence is erected when a fibrous cement fence would be suitable, the obligation to pay would be for half the cost of the cheaper alternative.

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