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Do I Need to Survey my Property Before I Put up a Boundary Fence?

Whether it's for protection, privacy, or purely for the look of it, a fence is an integral (sometimes necessary) part of any home. If you are looking at putting in a fence, you may not know whether you need a land survey. Some fencing contractors say no survey is needed and that they can handle it. There are also homeowners who assume they know where the boundaries lie and don't feel the need for a professional opinion. The truth is, the only way to guarantee that your fence is truly on or within the boundary is to have a registered surveyor mark it.

Why Do I Need a Survey to Put Up a Fence?

It crucial that you get a survey before you erect a boundary fence, whether you choose to DIY it or hire a contractor to perform the work. Property lines are an important consideration when putting in a fence; not having them fully established at the start is a quick way to cause problems.

No matter what your contractor says, you cannot determine legal property lines simply by looking at the property. If a contractor does try to convince you that they have plenty of experience and are able to do this, it is time to find a new contractor. A truly knowledgeable and experienced contractor knows that a survey is the only way to correctly determine official property lines. A registered surveyor provides property line based on information filed with the title company and local zoning board. This ensures that your fence remains on your property alone and prevents any issues, legal or otherwise, from occurring down the road.

Not Getting a Survey

If you decide not to get a survey, then you need to take great care when staking the property line. The fence should be just inside your side of the property line; mistakes lead to a plethora of problems. For example, if you install the fence on your neighbor's property, congratulations! You just gave your neighbor a new fence. And that's the best case scenario. Your neighbor could sue you.

You could erect the fence exactly on the property line, but then it becomes a joint ownership/responsibility between you and your neighbor. And, though we advise installing it just over your side of the line, you don't want to go too far. If you do, you run the risk of giving up your property if it lies on the other side of the fence, through a legal loophole called adverse possession.

This applies to fences at the front of a property, as well, not just those that share a border with neighbors. Homes located on public roads must be careful not to encroach on the property of the local municipality that owns the road. Typically, they own a wider portion of land than the paved road itself and if you happen to put in a fence on what is technically their property, they have every right to ask you to remove it.

It is important to note that this is still true even if you are replacing an existing fence. Just because it was already there does not mean that it was placed correctly, which means you are still liable for any wrongdoing. You may not even have the legal right to replace it. Getting a proper survey is the only way to ensure that your fence is installed within the proper perimeter.

Property Fence Rules and Regulations

The various rules and regulations that must be followed when putting up a fence vary according to location. Generally, a fence needs to be anywhere from 2" to 8" away from the property line, though some areas allow you to be right against it.

Regulations also vary depending on population density, with more densely populated regions being more likely to allow you to build closer to the property line. Homeowners' associations may also enforce their own regulations in addition to those in your state, city, or county. Always check your HOA's rules regarding fences are to be sure you aren't going against any bylaws.

Many areas consider a fence built directly on a property line to be a shared fence, which means responsibility for it is divided between you and your neighbor. This isn't a problem if they also want a fence, but if not it can lead to legal disputes. And, of course, they may not always be your neighbor. A shared fence could make it more difficult to sell your house down the line. Or, when your neighbor sells, the new owner may refuse the shared fence.

How Much Does a Boundary Survey Cost?

The price of boundary surveys vary from project to project, with the amount of time required by the survey impacting cost.

  • Some land surveys cost as little as $50 per hour, though average costs are between $84 and $100 per hour
  • A completed survey has an average cost between $300 and $500

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