If you've ever thought of repairing or replacing your boundary fence, you might have heard that your neighbour has to pay for half the cost.
While there is a seed of truth to this, in practice sharing the cost of repairing or replacing your fence with your neighbour can be a little more complex.
The Fencing Act 1978 does allow you to recover half the cost of repairing or replacing a boundary fence from your neighbour if you follow the correct procedure.
You can't, for example, simply do the work without your neighbour's knowledge and then demand payment.
In some cases, there might be a fencing covenant or agreement registered on the title to your property.
A fencing covenant is an agreement between two neighbouring properties about who will pay for the costs of fencing.
They are commonly found on titles to subdivided properties. If your title has a fencing covenant registered on it, it's important that you read it first before trying to enforce it or doing any work.
Fencing covenants last for a maximum of 12 years, and if the benefited property is sold before the 12 years, the fencing covenant will expire early.
Similar to a fencing covenant, a fencing agreement can determine who will pay for the costs of fencing, but fencing agreements are less common.
If you don't have a fencing covenant or agreement on your title, what should you do? Firstly, talk to your neighbour.
Coming to an agreement with your neighbour before you undertake any work is usually the most cost effective and time efficient way of getting the work done. If you can't reach an agreement with your neighbour, then you can issue them with a fencing notice.
A fencing notice lets your neighbour know the type of work needed, the estimated cost, and how that cost is to be shared.
Once you have given that notice to your neighbour, they have 21 days to respond. If they haven't responded after 21 days, they are considered to have agreed to the proposal set out in the notice and you can do the work.
If they do respond, and you haven't been able to agree on what to do with the fence, you will need to apply to the District Court for a resolution.
In some cases, you can apply to the Disputes Tribunal instead, which is often a cheaper, faster means of resolving your dispute.
It is best to wait until either the 21 days has run or, where necessary, the Court has made an order in regard to the fence, before you undertake any work.
Completing the work before the 21 day period has finished, or where a dispute is ongoing, may mean that you are unable to recover all of the costs you would otherwise be entitled to.
One further matter to note is that you can only seek half the cost of any repairs or replacements required to create an adequate fence.
The Act defines an adequate fence as being of a "nature, condition, and state of repair" that is "reasonably satisfactory for the purpose that it serves or is intended to serve" – that's legal-ese for "it depends on the context".
An adequate fence between two farming properties where stock are kept might be quite different from an adequate fence between two residential properties in the suburbs.
There are some exceptions to this process in the Act. If you're unsure about how the Act applies to you, call your lawyer before you do any work. It could save you the cost of (half) a fence in the long run.
Phillippa Childs, Solicitor at Treadwell Gordon, Whanganui