Know your rights when you have a fence war with your neighbours

Boundary fences are one of the major causes of property disputes between neighbours. 

So, what are your rights when a new dividing fence needs to be put up between you and next door? picket-fence

Broadcaster Richard Glover  wrote a column for the Sydney Morning Herald outlining to his son on his 18th birthday some lessons he’d learnt about life. 

One of them related to the neighbours: “Never get into a fight with your neighbours. Apologise. Make peace. Buy them a case of beer… anything”

It’s excellent advice.

But what happens if your neighbour suddenly announces he wants to build a brand new fence on the boundary you share and he wants you to pay half?

You’re adamant the existing fence is fine. 

It’s going to be hard not to get angry and turn it into a dispute, isn’t it?

According to Peggy Kadis, executive director of the Southern Community Justice centre, which operates the Community Mediation Services in South Australia, boundaries and retaining walls caused the highest number of neighbourhood disputes in the 2008 to 2009 period.  


“It’s more than double our other high ones – trees and plants, behaviour and noise,” she says.  “It’s by far the highest”.

Fence disputes are so infamous they became the subject of a play, The Great Divide, which tells of the dramas created when a young Greek couple move in and want to replace a dividing fence with a huge brisk wall.

“They (fence disputes) create a disturbance out of proportion to the actual issues,” says Roger Batrouney, a local government and planning specialist at law firm Slater and Gordon.

“People are fighting about their castles, aren’t they?  Someone’s trying to breach the ramparts of the castle – that’s how they see it sometimes”

Batrouney says that boundary fence disputes are “30 percent law and 70 percent emotion”. 

So, while it’s good to have your head around the law, it’s often people’s attitude that needs to change to ensure sensible resolutions. 

Is it really worth having a toxic relationship with your neighbour over a fence and a few thousand dollars?


Boundary, or dividing fences are defined by law under various state legislation. 

There are differences between each state, but the laws are broadly similar.  legal law

It’s worth consulting a solicitor for the exact legal requirements in each state.

In New South Wales, for example, under the Dividing Fences Act 1991, a dividing fence is defined as a fence that separates the lands of adjoining owners. 

It may be of any material, a ditch, an embankment or a vegetative barrier such as a hedge. 

It isn’t a wall of a building, nor is it a retaining wall – except if it’s used as a foundation or support for the fence. 

The act defines a ‘sufficient’ dividing fence as one that “adequately separates the properties”. 

For example, a paling fence in a residential area, or a wire and steel star post fence in a rural area.

In most states adjoining owners must share the cost of the fence. 

That obligation only occurs if the fence is inadequate or there is no fence.

There are exceptions:

  • If one neighbour wants a higher standard fence than required, then they must pay the additional cost: or
  • If one neighbour damages the fence, they have to pay for the entire costs of restoring it.

In most states, the fencing Acts don’t apply to property boundaries adjoining unoccupied Crown land. 

“The law isn’t perfect but it does have a significant role in having these disputes resolved without people belting each other to death in the streets, Batrouney says.


So what happens if you or your neighbour decide to build a new boundary fence?

According to most state laws you need to serve your neighbour with a ‘notice to fence’, but most lawyers recommend informally approaching your neighbour before that.

“The desired approach is not to follow the law strictly, in the first instance,” says Glenn Thexton Lawyers which specialises in fencing disputes. Paint 2383335 1920

“Try to have a discussion with your neighbour with a view to being a long-term neighbour and avoiding conflict.”

He says another good idea is to present the neighbour with a fence quotation and give them an opportunity to get their own quote.

Tim O’Dwyer and Bradley, agrees this is the best first step.

“The positive approach is to talk to the person who owns the property about either a new fence or a fence repair or upgrade,” he says. 

“Try and get a phone number and be positive and friendly and be reasonable in what you’re proposing. If someone is asking you to contribute to a fence, be reasonable and realistic. If it’s an investment property there are going to be tax advantages for what you spend on the fence anyhow.”

O’Dwyer says fences are often things that investors don’t like spending money on.

“Landlords tend to see it as money down the drain”, he says, “but a property fully and adequately fenced is more rentable and a more attractive proposition for any prospective tenant, particularly a tenant with young children and pets you’re happy for them to have in the yard, but not in the house.


The problem is a lot of neighbours will say no to an initial approach which can trigger a dispute.

According to the Department of Justice in Victoria, disputes arise over a variety of issues

  • One neighbour feels the current fence is adequate, or just needs repair; Property Investment Checklist 300x199 300x199
  • One neighbour blames the other for the need to replace the fence;
  • Both neighbours agree they need a new fence, but one or both can’t afford it at present;
  • Neighbours disagree about the position of the title boundary;
  • The neighbours want fences of a different height;
  • The neighbours disagree about whether the front end should ‘rake’ or taper down for visibility;
  • One neighbour fears the weight of attachments like trellises may damage the fence. The list seems endless.

According to Richard Berckelman, who runs fencing contractor All Day Fencing, the most common disputes he sees are over location, type and cost of the fence and the fence height.

Carl Weiss, a fence builder based in the western Brisbane suburb of Brookfield, says,

“There are a lot of arguments about neighbours who want different kinds of fences, where the boundary is, if they’re getting a paling fence, who gets the paling side and who gets the non-paling side?

Slater and Gordon’s Batrouney says one of the most common disputes is over where the fence goes.

He says 10 percent of the time, the fence is exactly on the title boundary, but in most other cases it’s not.

“Often because of the passage of time, or because of fencing contractors, the fence isn’t actually on the title boundary,” he says. 

“Builders aren’t surveyors and near enough is often good enough.”  13533867_l1

He says there’s wiggle room in the law for some discrepancy.

“Generally, it doesn’t make much difference. 

An inch or two?  Big deal. But some people get very excited about it.  Some people will go to quite an amount of cost to get the fence on the boundary.”

He says establishing the title boundary involves a surveyor to establish where it is and its relation to the fence.

Another big issue is aesthetics. 

What happens if the neighbour wants to put up a large fence you deem ugly? 

Batrouney says you can oppose it on those grounds. 

But the neighbour has the option of building an ugly fence on his side of the property.

If a neighbour rejects an informal approach, they can then be served a notice to fence, personally or by post.

“Formalise it into a notice to fence,” Thexton says. 

“Then, if possible, a lawyer should give the neighbour a call.”

He says a lot of lawyers aren’t keen to resolve a dispute by phone which takes 20 to 30 minutes – their fees won’t be high. 

“But sometimes people’s ears prick up when a lawyer rings,” he says. 

“The fundamental thing is to ensure the neighbour you’re seeking to get payment from understands their obligation at law.  It often becomes a question of getting the other person to take notice of the action. They might receive a notice to fence in accordance with the Act but they simply ignore it.”


What if the neighbour continues to object?

The next step is mediation, which is designed to keep the issue out of the courts and hopefully find a resolution. hammer-802296_1920

Most states have a mediation service. 

In South Australia, it’s Community Mediation Services (CMS). 

Executive director Peggy Kadis says when people approach them about fencing disputes they ask if they’ve approached the neighbour themselves.  Most have.

“We do get some people that ring and haven’t approached their neighbour,” she says.  “We usually get them to do that unless there’s some issue of safety or fear.”

The mediation service will then write to the neighbour saying they’ve been approached.

“Usually the other party gets back to us and lets us know they’ll fix it,” she says. “Or they won’t get back to us.  Or they’ll try and negotiate it.

“If it can’t be done by negotiation we bring the parties together for mediation.”

CMS has a number of offices where mediation takes place. 

They organise the closest offices to the neighbours and set up mediation, which runs for two hours, and sometimes longer if necessary. 

Two qualified mediators attend. Financial Meeting At Office

“They’re neutral and they don’t take sides; they’re impartial,” Kadis says. 

“With clients, there are ground rules – to respect each other’s views, to not shout at each other and not abuse each other.  We’ve got a complex behavioural dispute process which works to help resolve disputes where it may not have worked before. 

If it doesn’t work, then it’s not suitable for mediation.  There’s only so much mediators can do.”

Batrouney says Slater & Gordon urges people to resolve the dispute through Victoria’s Department of Justice Dispute Settlement Centre, which he says has a strike rate of around 50 per cent.

“We try and get them to go there first. We try and avoid as much as possible neighbours getting in dispute with each other. We use every means available: firstly, to save them legal costs; and secondly so they have at least some reasonably civilised relationship with their neighbours.  

That doesn’t always work.  If all of that (mediation) hasn’t succeeded we try and talk common sense to the other side and get a practical resolution,” Batrouney adds. 

“Sometimes there’s no alternative to get an umpire’s decisions before the magistrate. What we try and do is not get people to waste money on lawyers.”


The next step is court, where a decision will be handed down. 

Batrouney warns: “If you lose you pay all of your own costs and two thirds of the other party’s costs, and vice versa if you win. With court decisions, you’re left with an unhappy neighbourhood relationship.  The annual Christmas street party isn’t going to be much fun, is it?” Business 2717427 1920

Batrouney says a standard fence – a 130-foot paling fence – usually costs $2000, which by law the other party should contribute half. 

“If they don’t you’re much better off building it yourself than going to court,” he says. 

“You’d spend $3000 to $4000 more going to court. 

That logic isn’t always appealing to people.”

Thexton agrees court should be avoided. 

“The amount of legal costs you can spend on a dispute can possibly outweigh the expense of the fence,” he says.

Ultimately, many people choose to pay for the new fence themselves.  

If the neighbour strongly objects to contributing this is valid option and helps keep the peace with neighbours.  


“If your neighbour won’t cooperate its good value still to spend the money yourself,” O’Dwyer says. 

“If you own the property a good fence will make it more saleable down the track. The best advice to a property owner, whether they live in it or rent it out, is don’t be stingy on keeping fences and retaining walls maintained.”

Fence disputes are legal issues, but emotions often take over and prevent sensible outcomes. 

O’Dwyer’s advice is blunt and perhaps the best guidelines when people look like becoming embroiled in a fence dispute:

“The grief and distress over a fence isn’t worth it.  In the big picture, fencing costs are usually pretty minimal in terms of what your property is worth.”

Richard Glover would no doubt agree.

Editors note: This article has been republished for the benefit of our many new readers. It was originally written by Ben Powers for Australian Property Investor Magazine in 2010 and has been republished with their permission


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'Know your rights when you have a fence war with your neighbours' have 26 comments

  1. Avatar for Property Update

    February 25, 2019 Ross

    This is not a question about fencing, it’s about the retaining wall that fence sits on. When townhouses were built next door to me, a retaining wall was built to level the neighbour’s block. It has started to fall over to my side, in spots where the wall is highest about 1 metre high, the lean is now about 30cm or more is some spots. When I was helping a neighbour dig up some trees along the fence, we found that his landscapers had installed the retaining wall without concrete footings (about 12 years ago). As a result, the weight of the soil built up on his side is pushing the wall over on my side. Do the same rules for fences apply to my situation, since I believe the problems arise from their landscapers poor workmanship? Am I liable for half the cost of repairs or is it the responsibility of the strata next door? Thank you.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      February 25, 2019 Michael Yardney

      Ross – I’m not a lawyer, even though I know a little bit about this area, and I would suggest that if the retaining wall was built to ” retain” soil et cetera on the neighbouring block because it is built higher than yours, then this is the responsibility of the neighbours.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      March 1, 2019 Julie Whicker

      Hi. My colorbond fence is leaning over quite a bit towards the neighbours. I appriached him today and I said I think the trellis vine is contributing. He disagreed saying there was no weight in it. I then said can we put extra posts in your side to straighten it up. At first he said yes, then 5 minutes later said no. He said put the posts in your side. By doing that will not help push the fence back and keep it line. He has a retaining wall on his side also contributing to the shift in the land. I then said we would have to cut a wedge at the base on our side, push over then reweld.
      He said no. So I then said take your vine hooks off the top of the fence, so he got a ladder and came onto our property to do that. He is 85. Then he starts telling me my driveway which is a battleaxe is common access land. I was shocked. It is totally within our boundaries and our deveway only accesses my property. I later checked our plans and rang the council to confirm my driveway is not common land.
      So I rang my brother who is a fencer and he said don’t worry he will come and fix it.
      I’m not asking for any money off the 85 year old but because the fence is what I consider our frontage I want it to look well maintained and not falling over.
      Can my brother straighten it by cut and weld.
      We did this to a gatepost already embedded into a concrete path and had no problems.


      • Avatar for Property Update

        March 1, 2019 Michael Yardney

        I can’t really advise you without seeing your property. I see no reason why your brother shouldn’t fix it


  2. Avatar for Property Update

    February 4, 2019 Charl

    Hi Michael,

    We bought our house around 10months ago, and if I’d known the neighbours were going to be this noisy would have stayed far away… Given property downturn I cannot really sell only 10 months in. Our neighbour’s property is filled and he has a 2m retaining wall which he has advised is all on his property. We have asked the to build a fence on top of this to block noise, however they do not want to.

    Is there anything I can do as effectively we have no fence between us, only a retaining wall, however given it’s all on the neighbour’s property it appears I cannot force him to do anything. Given also the 1,8m height regulation in QLD any fence I erect on my side will be lower than the existing retaining wall…

    Are there any options open to us?


    • Avatar for Property Update

      February 5, 2019 Michael Yardney

      Charl – I can’t really visualise what you’re describing, but if you can’t build a higher fence why not plant some mature trees that should block out the sound


  3. Avatar for Property Update

    January 28, 2019 John BOURKE

    After both agreeing to build a 9.5m colorbond fence, plus my neighbor wanting me to renew a 6m section 900mm high retaining wall which the fence was partly built on top. we both found the old fence had been wrongly built on top of this retaining wall which is around 80cm inside my property. This currently affects losing that distance by 24m long, and I am concerned about selling with knowing it now has a reduced land size.
    As this is a large piece of my land, I have e-mailed and advised him I wanted to pull it down and rebuild the Color bond fence with the existing material on it’s the boundary.
    My neighbors had a small gate built and it gives him further access into his back yard.
    I want to know if I can pull down the fence, and have it rebuilt correctly on the true boundary?
    It seemed the retaining wall and old fence was originally built wrongly when both houses were constructed, 20 years ago, as we just replaced everything where it was.
    Have I the right to pull it down seeing it’s on my land ?
    I have e-mailed my neighbor advising I was going to pull the fence down, and for him to to call in and discuss how to proceed with the matter, as he is very difficult young man to deal with, and I am in my 70’s and has always been difficult previously over a number of minor problems, e.g. like when asking him to trim a bush on our boundary, that is blocking my view of roadway when exiting my garage, which he advised by e-mail NO!
    He hasn’t replied to my e-mail as yet, and I honestly don’t believe the cost to rebuild the fence will be expensive, seeing all the colorbond material is reusable, and we may require just some new upright posts, so mostly labor cost.
    I was going to get a quote for the rebuild, but am concerned with him having a small gate he paid for currently securing the access to this walkway.
    I am totally restricted with having to be the sole full time carer to my seriously ill wife, with Parkinson’s PSP and arranging conciliation or similar would be very difficult for me to attend.
    I probably would be prepared to pay for the rebuild if necessary, but have not offered at this stage, if he becomes stubborn, I probably may be able to have my daughter represent me if required to go to conciliation?
    I was considering ringing our Council and discuss the matter, is that wise at this stage?
    Appreciate any advice and guidance.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      January 28, 2019 Michael Yardney

      This is an important decision, as you may end up losing some land if the fence remains in the wrong spot.
      I would first get a survey to find out exactly where the boundary is – then you’ll have more ammunition.
      It may then be worth get a solicitor to give you an opinion as well as write a letter that may stir your neighbour into action


  4. Avatar for Property Update

    January 17, 2019 Alisha

    Hi Michael,

    I have a broken fence between myself and my neighbour’s property. The construction is poor and I am concerned it will just break again. If I have proposed by official notice that I will pay for 100% of the costs for a brand new fence, how much control does my neighbour have over the design of the fence? I have agreed to her height requests but she is being very difficult about the colour.

    Any advice would be appreciated.


    (South Australia)


    • Avatar for Property Update

      January 17, 2019 Michael Yardney

      The neighbour has a right to have a say which colour is on their side, but if they don’t like the colour you’ve selected then they’ll have to pay their share.
      It’s a sort of democracy – you both have a say and hopefully will come to an agreement


  5. Avatar for Property Update

    December 5, 2018 Moveen Mudaliar

    Hi Michael. I have a situation where I’m in the process of a knockdown and build. During our demo we removed an old brick fence that backed onto our neighbours brick fence which is also part of their pool fence. When we removed our fence we found that their fence was sitting on a suspended slab. This slab is also their pool deck. The slab has concrete cancer throughout it and the single leaf brick wall has crack through it. There is timber supporting structure under the slab that has been eaten away by termites and there are several termite mounds visible. I believe that this wall is unsafe and could come down without notice causing severe injury or or death. Neighbor has indicated that he is not going to do anything due to budget constraints. Has indicated that he will be getting a survey consultant to look inspect it notify if it it safe. He has not given a timeline. I have spoken to council and they say it is a civil matter. What are my options here.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      December 5, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Moveen – you are clearly in a difficult situation – but the council ahs given you the right answer – see if you can resolve the matter and if not get your solicitor involved to speed things up


  6. Avatar for Property Update

    December 2, 2018 Zoe

    Without warning Our neighbour pulled up our chainlink fence and posts, picked it up and pushed it onto our land and tied it to our trees. He then excavated a heap of earth (from our side of the boundry as well as his) and built a retaining wall 2/3 of the way along the fence line but not the rest. He has not backfilled on our side of the retaining wall and there is a 1m drop where he has not built anything. He said the existing fence was to be put back up on top of the retaining wall or we have to pay for an upgrade. We just want the fence fixed but nothing has happened for years. We don’t have a secure yard and he refuses to fix and we don’t have any earth to put the fence up on the boundry as he dug it out! Whats our best option?


    • Avatar for Property Update

      December 2, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Zoe – am I right in understanding this happened “years” ago?
      My suggestion is to try and speak with your neighbour first rather than escalating the matter. if you don’t get anywhere go the the council because they should make him fix the 1 mt drop


  7. Avatar for Property Update

    November 16, 2018 Jess

    Our neighbour approached us to replace the fence. Told us to get a quote, they agreed to the quote. We replaced the fence. Went to collect money, they now say they don’t have money and never wanted a fence. All in the space of 3 weeks…This is in NSW.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      November 16, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Approve – you have the fencing Act on your side – they have to pay their half of a normal fence – but the trouble is you’ll have to get the money out of them. Real pity


  8. Avatar for Property Update

    October 31, 2018 sharron

    Hi, we recently purchased a property and after 6 months the neighbour approached us about replacing the fence. It is a wooden fence with palings, I don’t know how old it is, however structurally sound with the posts, rails and most of the palings. The neighbour had a lot of trees overhanging the fence and over the years seem to be the cause of the cosmetic damage. He came up with a solution to remove the palings (which are on his side) and replace with corrugated iron that he has had laying around for a number of years, and was already second hand. We asked how much would it cost to put on a couple of times and were told not much, just the cost of the rivets. Within the next couple of days the palings were taken off and replaced with the tin. We then receive a bill for $975 which seems rather excessive and no details of what it relates to. No posts or rails were removed, just the palings and purely for cosmetic purposes. I am going to approach the neighbour but wanted to understand our position being that they have removed the palings on their side and replaced with old tin they already had.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      October 31, 2018 Michael Yardney

      If you didn’t agree to these works he’ll be hard pressed to pursue you for them – your obligation is to pay for your half of a paling fence – but not need to pay for replacement if simple repairs will suffice


  9. Avatar for Property Update

    October 30, 2018 Kush

    Hi Michael,
    My neighbour has just started building his house and builder want to remove the side fence in order to put the slab. He also want to remove part of my retaining wall in the front garden. The time frame given is 6 months which is too long. Is there anyway I can say “No” to the builder or I have no option and accept it? Any points to consider before they go ahead and do it? Kindly help. Thanks


    • Avatar for Property Update

      October 30, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Kush – you’re right 6 months seems a long time, but you can’t really hold up the construction.
      Ask why it takes so long and take plenty of before photos so they leave things in the same condition or better on completion


      • Avatar for Property Update

        January 15, 2019 Marion Wood

        Take lots of photos in relation to the boundary.
        I’ve had the unpleasant experience of neighbors removing a well built fence that stood for well over the 15 years that could have been repaired.They excavated for a retaining wall without advising that it was a requirement to build nor did they obtain a permit until I complained to Local Council. They are now disputing the boundary.They also we’re very reluctant to supply me with written quote for the new fence.Take care !!


  10. Avatar for Property Update

    September 27, 2018 allstonelandscapes

    Thanks for sharing..


  11. Avatar for Property Update

    August 21, 2018 jon

    Hi Michael it was great to read your thoughts on this issue,
    what or were do we stand if we want to put a fence up to separating two properties that currently dosnt have one, and the other home owner dosnt want one , we would even do it at our cost, we are in rural land in QLD,
    Do we have a right to protect our property and land?
    cheers Jon


    • Avatar for Property Update

      August 22, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Jon Of course you have a rigth to protect your property and land – however the type of fence you can build may be different in rural QLD. I suggest you ask your local council


  12. Avatar for Property Update

    July 19, 2018 Anne khaya

    Neigbour removed dividing fence 6 months ago. Has run stormwater on my land and built a retaining wall on my land. Now refuses to replace fence where it was. He thinks the fence should be moved further into land. Not interested in paying for anything. He has said he will pull the fence down if i replace it where it was. Nobody seems able to help me.


    • Avatar for Property Update

      July 19, 2018 Michael Yardney

      Anne – if the neighbour is not willing to be reasonable you really must see a solicitor to protect your interests


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