Which side of the fence is mine? Your rights

Tips on keeping those neighbourly disputes at bay.

Do you need to paint, repair, or replace a fence along your property line? Wondering, “Which side of the fence is mine?” before you get started? You’re in the right place. 

The payment and upkeep of garden fences is a common dispute between even the friendliest of neighbours. If you want to avoid a costly confrontation with those next door, make sure you know your rights and responsibilities when it comes to garden boundaries.

Here, we help you understand what side of the fence is yours, what you need to know if you’d like to erect a fence of your own, and how to handle potential disputes. 

What side of the fence am I responsible for? 

In other words, who owns the fence between two houses in the UK? 

There’s a common belief that when you look at house boundaries, the fence to the left, as you face your property from the street, is your responsibility. However, that’s not always the case.

So, what are your options when determining ownership? 

Well, you can either look at the design of the fence for a clue or check your deeds to know for sure. Let’s explore both approaches. 

1. The good side vs. the bad side of the fence: How do I know which side of the fence is mine?

When a new fence is installed, the posts should go inside the owner’s property line. Most installers will then make sure the “good” or “smooth” side of the fence is facing inwards, towards the owner’s garden. This hides the posts on the other side. 

If your side of the fence has the good side, you can reasonably assume it’s your fence, and you’re responsible for its upkeep. If it has the “bad” side, with the posts showing, it’s probably your neighbour’s fence, and the responsibility falls on them.

However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. The previous owner may have picked the “bad” side when they had it installed, or the fence design could have the slats fitted between the posts, so both sides are “good”. 

This brings us to your second option.

2. Check your deeds

If you’re trying to solve the mystery of “what side of the fence is mine?”, the best place to check is your home’s title deeds.

You should have a copy among the paperwork you received when you bought your house. If you can’t find it, search your emails from the solicitor who handled your conveyancing, or simply contact them and ask for another copy.

Note: You can also search the Land Registry for your deeds if you live in England or Wales. You’ll need to search different registers if the property is in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

How to read your deeds

Your property deeds are made up of the register and plan. The title register lists your name and address as the owner, as well as any restrictions or charges on the property. The title plan shows the boundaries of the property. 

On your title plan, look for a symbol shaped like a “T” along the boundary lines (sometimes called a T-mark). If the T is on your side of the boundary, it means you own the fence or wall in place. If it’s on your neighbour’s side, they’re responsible for the fence.

Can my neighbour and I own the same fence or boundary wall?

Yes, you and your neighbour can be jointly responsible for a shared fence or wall. If your title plan shows a mirrored T (it looks a bit like a stretched-out “H”), this means the boundary is shared by both parties.

A shared boundary is also known as a “party fence” or “party wall”, depending on the structure built along the boundary. If you have a party fence or wall, you’ll need to come to an agreement with your neighbour regarding its maintenance. 

What if there’s no T on the title plan?

If there’s no T-mark on the title plan, it won’t be immediately clear who’s responsible for the upkeep of the boundary fence or wall. 

If you or your neighbour has already assumed responsibility for the fence, you or they may need to continue maintaining it. However, if it has been jointly maintained (or neither of you has done any maintenance up until this point), it could be deemed a party fence, and you’ll both be responsible for its upkeep going forward.

Installing a new fence: What to know before you get started

If your fence has blown over in a storm (or you simply don’t have one to begin with) and you’d like to build a new one, here are a few things you need to know.

Do I need planning permission to put up a new fence?

Whether your new fence requires planning permission will depend on the size of the fence you’d like to build and the type and location of your property. 

As a rule of thumb, anything over two metres will usually require planning permission. This includes any trellis fence toppers you may want to add to the structure. Additionally, if your property is a listed building, you’ll probably need planning permission before you make any changes. 

Rules vary from one local authority to another, so it’s important to check before you get started. If you build a fence higher than two metres in your back garden (or one metre in your front garden) without getting planning permission first, your local council could make you take it down.

How high can my garden fence be?

As we mentioned above, the highest your fence can be without planning permission is two metres in your back garden and one metre in your front garden. 

What side of the fence should face me? 

While the fence posts must be on the owner’s side of the boundary line, there’s no rule that states the smooth side must face into the owner’s garden or the neighbour’s. 

If you’re paying to have a new fence installed, you get to decide whether you want to see the “good” or “smooth” side or the “bad” side with the fence posts showing. From an aesthetic perspective, you’ll probably want the smooth side facing into your garden. 

Who can paint or change a fence once it’s up?

Only the owner can make changes to the fence, even when the other side faces a neighbouring property. This includes painting or staining the wood, hanging something from the slats or fence posts (like a bird feeder or lights), or growing trailing plants up it.

However, it’s considered good etiquette to allow your neighbour to, at the very least, paint their side of the fence. After all, they’ll be the ones looking at it the most, so it’s only fair that they get a say in what their garden looks like.

How do I get my neighbour to repair their fence?

If your neighbour’s fence is rotting, damaged, fading, or on the brink of falling down, you may want to approach them and ask them to fix it. However, they don’t need to take any action unless the structure poses a serious safety concern. 

If you believe the fence is dangerous (for example, rusty nails are poking out, or it poses a risk to your property), and they still refuse to repair it, you can report it to your local council. If the council shares your concern, they can compel your neighbour to take action. 

In the meantime, you may simply want to install your own fence on your side of the boundary to cover their fence. 

Tips for resolving fence disputes

If your neighbour refuses to fix their fence or they’re not pulling their weight in maintaining a party fence, you have a few different options for resolving the disagreement.

  • The first step is to talk to them calmly about the situation. You can do this face-to-face, or in writing if you prefer. It’s often a good idea to compromise over a shared boundary. For example, you may want to split the cost of a new fence or work together to paint or repair it yourself. Remember to keep a copy of your correspondence, as you may need it for the next step. 
  • If talking doesn’t work, your next port of call is to get help from a mediator. This is a trained professional who helps people resolve disagreements. You can search for a mediator on gov.uk. Note: you may need to pay for this service. 
  • Finally, if all else fails, you may need to speak to a solicitor specialising in neighbourly disputes. Although expensive, legal action can often help you resolve your boundary dispute in the most efficient way. You may be able to claim the cost of a solicitor if you have legal expenses insurance.

In summary: By law, which side of the fence is mine?

To recap, the best way to figure out which side of the fence belongs to you is to check your title deeds. 

Your deeds should show the boundary line around your property. If there’s a T-shaped symbol (also called a T-mark) on your side of the boundary, that means you own the fence. If it’s on your neighbour’s side, it’s their fence and responsibility. And if there’s a mirrored T (which looks like a stretched-out “H”), it means you share the fence, and you’re both responsible for its upkeep.

Worried about a fence dispute escalating into legal action? Howden’s legal expenses insurance includes cover for boundary disputes and other neighbour-related issues. Contact us today.

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