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Fencing Laws

Before you put up a fence – or take one down – first check your state laws.

Carl Sandburg once wrote, “Love your neighbor as yourself, but don’t take down the fence.” Specific boundary lines and other fencing issues can create rifts when your land encroaches on someone else’s.

Rusty Rumley is a senior staff attorney with the National Agricultural Law Center. He says anytime you can work out an agreement with the adjacent landowner, it’s much cheaper than going through litigation. Yet, sometimes the neighbors aren’t so friendly.

“Most states have a quiet title, a process they can use to set the boundaries. It’s not something that landowners can do by themselves; they’re going to have to work with an attorney to help them through the process,” says Rumley. “Some states have the mechanism for how it’s performed. In other states, it’s not quite laid out so nicely in their laws.”

Rumley says when most states entered the Union, fencing laws were generally one of the first statutes written into the state code. In the Eastern states, particularly, you’ll find provisions that say you can use stone walls or even hedgerows as legal fences.

The rules may be far different in other places. Some states have very specific requirements, down to the smallest of details.

“What kind of wire, how many barbs it has to have, what gauge of wire it has to be, the distance between the fence posts, the number of wires, proper height, etc. These things can actually vary quite a bit depending on the state,” says Rumley. “Quite a few of the states – especially if you’re in the western half of the U.S. – go through and spell out in their state codes exactly what constitutes a legal fence.”

Some states also have specific fencing requirements for different species of livestock.

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