Neighbors are great. After all, it’s nice to be able to borrow a garden tool or ask them to collect your mail while you’re out of town. But sometimes neighbors are just too close. When your need for a bit of privacy overrides your love for grilling side by side with the neighbors, it might be time to set up a boundary between property lines. Here are some things to consider.
The Legal Stuff
If you own your home, the first thing to consider is the CC&Rs for your property. These Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions are the rule book for your neighborhood. They outline things like lot size, shed location, and debris accumulation so that everyone in the neighborhood is on the same page about the expectations. Often, the CC&Rs will address whether you can build a fence and, if you can, what the restrictions might be on that fence.
Before you begin digging post holes, you will also want to check with the county for precise property boundaries. Nothing says bad neighbor like adopting property that is not legally yours. While you’re at it, make sure you have a conversation with your adjacent neighbor so they can express concerns and be aware of changes that may affect them as well. In fact, if your neighbor is equally eager to put up a partition, you might agree to split the cost and/or labor of the project.
When considering your options for a boundary between property lines, think about the overall look you hope to achieve. Also, think about what your goals are. Is it to have a fenced yard for a dog? Is it to keep intruders out? What about height? Will a tall item block an important view? Do you have a minimum height in mind? Should it be see through to offer complete privacy?
If your neighbor doesn’t want to take part in your project, make sure that every portion of your fence or other obstruction stays within the boundaries of your property line when outlining the specifics of your location.
Think about what materials you will use. Much of this decision can be based on the supplies you have available on or around your property. After all, there’s a reason that many western landscapes are peppered with rock-anchored fencing. If you don’t have supplies readily available, consider the cost of materials, installation if you won’t be doing it yourself, and the long-term maintenance and durability of the materials.
As the saying goes, “good fences make good neighbors”. In suburban areas fencing is the norm when it comes to creating boundaries. In rural areas, fencing may also be helpful in establishing property lines. Chain link, wood plank, stone wall, vinyl, barbed wire, and even chicken wire are among the available fence options.
There are many reasons that fencing might not be your best option. Perhaps your CC&Rs don’t allow it. Maybe your property is too large to fence in, or you simply prefer a more natural look. If fencing isn’t an option, consider the many natural plants, trees, and shrubs that can create a barrier.
Make sure your landscaping doesn’t encroach onto your neighbor’s property. Things like mint, bamboo, and blackberry will quickly take over any surrounding area so if you choose these or similar options, you’ll need to reign them in. Having said that, rambling bushes such as blackberries can be an effective property divider for larger pieces of land. Not only does it create a visual block, but it offers security protection with its thorny branches. For more suburban yards, consider trees along the border. Fast growers include Nuttall's oak, poplar, maple, willow, birch, and sycamore.
Depending on the size of your lot or land, you may want to use a combination of materials to meet your needs. A small patio might necessitate little more than a screen, while a larger lot might incorporate garden walls, lattice, trees, shrubs, and fencing. Whatever you decide on, remember the goal is to maintain good neighbors during the process so be respectful of noise and mess during your construction.