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I recently appeared as a guest on CTV News to comment on a dispute between two homeowners who were arguing over who should pay for the repair of their boundary fence.

This is a common issue.

They say that good fences make good neighbours. Honestly, I would say that “good neighbours make good fences”. 

Indeed, if you can resolve such issues with your neighbours before escalating them, then you can save yourself many headaches. However, that’s not always possible. 

Here are six things you need to know about boundary fences, and what to do if there’s a dispute. 

  1. What does the law say?
    • Is there a law that says that there must be a boundary fence between two adjoining properties?
    • There is no formal law that says there must be a boundary fence between two adjoining properties. However, this does not prevent owners from erecting a boundary fence between their respective properties.
  2. Who pays for the fence?
    • In most situations, the neighbours should share the cost of the boundary fence on a building on a 50/50 split basis. This is the fairest and most equitable way to move forward.
  1. What if one neighbour desires a very elaborate fence, while the other prefers a simpler, economical fence?
    • The elaborate fence can be purchased. However, the neighbour who prefers the simple fence should pay 50% of the cost of the simple fence, while the other neighbour should pay the balance – the extra cost.
  1. What if an existing fence needs to be mended? Who pays if the neighbours do not agree with each other?
    • There is a law in Ontario known as the Line Fences Act, which provides that when neighbours have disputes such as this, they can contact the clerk of the city they live in and pay for fence referees to help them settle this issue. However, this comes with a hefty price tag. Depending on the city, it could cost up to $1,500 to hire referees. Ultimately, the referees’ final decision can be to force the owners to comply – which can be a complete waste of time and money for everyone involved. Therefore, it might be in your best interest to resolve the issue yourself or to take the matter to small claims court.
  2. What if there’s an argument over the actual boundary line between two properties?
    • This particular issue is one that can’t be decided by any fence referee. In this situation, the parties will likely have to obtain an up-to-date survey as well as legal advice in order to determine what the correct boundary line is.
  1. Can you forcefully take land by adverse possession or squatters rights and change the boundary lines?
    • In my experience, it is extremely difficult to take any one’s land away by possession in Ontario. In most cases, it is not possible at all. In the rare case that it is possible, it may take at least 30 years of proof of possession to make such a claim. Make sure you always get legal advice before making any such claims.

The moral in all of this is to just work together with your neighbour on any dispute and come up with a friendly, mutually beneficial solution. You will otherwise pay much more in legal fees and unwanted stress. If you have any questions about fence lines or need any assistance with your real estate closing, RealEstateLawyers.ca can help. Please contact me at [email protected] or call me toll free at 1-888-876-5529.

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