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When fences divide neighbors: Know your legal rights

In a perfect world, we would all get along with our neighbors -- and maybe even enjoy a few summertime barbecues. However, in the real world, this is not always the case and there are times when squabbles with neighbors turn into all out legal disputes.

A common area of contention for many residents is fences. One neighbor decides to put up a fence, but the neighbor does not approve. Maybe the neighbor considers the fence an eyesore? Or maybe there is even question as to the legality of the fence? Questions like these can leave one or both neighbors wondering just what their legal rights are.

The fence is just ugly. Is that enough of a reason for it to come down?

We all have different tastes. While some of us may enjoy a white picket fence, others would prefer a nice treated cedar. And while some fences are built strictly for privacy and tend to be a bitter higher, others are more for the overall appearance of the property and may still give visual access into the yard.

Whatever the preference is, as long as it meets local fencing laws -- which include height restrictions -- the truth is there is not a whole lot of legal ground to stand on if just not liking the look of a fence is the only complaint. However, if there are concerns about the safety or construction of the fence, this is an entirely separate issue and a disgruntled neighbor may have reason to take legal action.

The neighbor built a fence just to make me mad. What can I do?

Massachusetts does have a spite fence law. This law makes it illegal for a homeowner to put up a fence, simply as a means to annoy or inconvenience a neighbor. In these cases, it may be possible to take legal action.

In general, when it comes to disputes with neighbors, most do not know what their legal rights are until the issue rears its head. Whether you are the neighbor with the complaint, or the one receiving it, the advice is always to reach out to an attorney who handles land use and zoning. This attorney will be able to look into the specifics of the complaint and provide advice and recommendations for how to proceed.

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