Property owners use boundary fences to define property lines between two pieces of land. Property boundaries are important for both rural and urban land owners. Although land owners do not always have a legal responsibility to erect a boundary fence, adjacent land owners may reach and agreement to erect a fence and specify who is responsible to maintain the fence.
Land that is designated as agricultural property should be separated from adjoining land by a boundary fence to prevent problems arising from escaped livestock and damage from farm equipment moving across property lines. Legal jurisdictions apply the right-hand rule in many disputes regarding the maintenance of boundary fences. Under this legal procedure, adjoining property owners face each other at the centre of the boundary line and take responsibility for maintaining the fence to their right hand.
Boundary fencing in cities and urban areas serve different purposes than in rural areas. Urban property owners use fences to keep small children out of the street, or to protect lawns and gardens from intrusion and damage from small animals and roaming teenagers. City ordinances require that property owners submit a construction plan and obtain a permit before erecting a boundary fence. City and county fencing regulations exist to protect the rights of property owners, and maintain property values.
Fences must meet specifications that state statutes establish. According to Missouri Fencing Statutes revised in 2001, "lawful fence is any fence consisting of posts and wires or boards at least four feet high, with posts set firmly in the ground not more than 12 feet apart." Florida fencing law describes a legal fence as three feet high with supporting posts 20 feet apart. Landowners should check their state and local laws before erecting a boundary fence.
The exact property line on land is often not where the property owner thinks it should be. Previous owners of the land may not have erected the boundary fence squarely on the legal property line for a number of reasons. Sometimes, an adjoining neighbour may erect a fence that is a little over the line in a property dispute. According to the official website for Rockville, Maryland, when individuals purchase a piece of property they should order a professional survey of the boundaries before they finalise the purchase.
Boundary disputes are civil matters landowners come to a resolution on when they are in disagreement over a fence or other structure. Landowners normally resolve boundary disputes through mediation, civil court action or simply the disagreeing neighbours making an agreement on their own. Boundary disputes become a criminal matter when one or more parties to the dispute resorts to criminal mischief such as vandalism or harassment. When the matter ends up in criminal court, a judge will issue an order directing a resolution to the problem.