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When boundary disputes threaten neighborly coexistence

On Behalf of | Dec 3, 2021 | Residential Real Estate

Boundary disputes are often a source of stress that can go on for many years between neighbors, or even cause property owners to move away. Property lines may not be clear, and the property description or plat map inaccurate. But problems with boundary lines may never come up unless a neighbor wishes to replace an old fence or put up a new one.

In Delaware, there are laws that guide the actions that individuals may take if they think that a neighbor has violated a property boundary. It is important to know when to try to resolve the dispute and when it may be necessary to take legal action. Enforcing a right may feel appropriate at the time, but it may also be useful to consider the value of peaceful coexistence if the two sides can come up with a solution out of court.

Delaware fence laws

Delaware has a blend of statutes and local county and city regulations that enforce property line and fence disputes. The common law rule of fencing-in livestock prevails, but does not apply to landowners who do not have livestock. Property owners must share the cost of fence construction if there is a mutual need for one, otherwise, the landowner with exclusive need for a fence is responsible for the cost of the fence.

Neighbors often build a fence to keep out trespassers, but the allowable height and materials for the fence may depend on local zoning or building codes, with further restrictions for communities governed by HOA covenants.

Delaware courts also recognize damages from the construction of a spite fence, which is a fence that an individual builds with the express intent to harass a neighbor. The injured party can file a claim in civil court to have the fence taken down and receive monetary compensation.

Who is responsible for fallen trees

When a tree grows on a property line, both neighbors share responsibility for trimming, cleaning, or taking care of fallen limbs that are within their property boundary. Cutting the tree down or trimming it beyond their boundary line, however, violates Delaware’s trespass to timber law.

Having said this, if a branch of one neighbor’s tree damages the roof of the other’s house, car, or garage, the tree’s owner is not responsible for damages, unless they knew the tree could create a hazard to their neighbor’s property.