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Fence Etiquette Tips for Avoiding Neighbor Disputes

good neighbors fenceLike the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbors” – but only if both sets of neighbors are thoughtful and kind about placement, design, maintenance and choice of fence materials. Portland residents can foster neighborly love by following the fence etiquette tips listed below.

1. Research zoning & HOA regulations.

Every town has slightly different regulations about fencing, but some regulations are fairly common. For example, most American cities limit backyard and side yard fences to a height of six feet, while restricting front yard fences to no more than four feet in height.

Portland fencing materials are subject to unique laws; for instance, in certain areas of town, fences that border public sidewalks must have windows or other visual breaks in them. This is the case in downtown Portland. For an example of how this Portland fencing materials law can impact fence design, examine the fence around the Portland Chinese Garden. Although solid walls surround a traditional Chinese garden, the Portland Chinese garden features intricate “windows” inspired by Chinese designs. (Without panes of glass, these features are complex, beautiful holes in the wall.) These windows allow passersby to enjoy a brief glimpse into the garden – and they also comply with city ordinances. Be sure to emulate the Portland Chinese Garden by researching fencing laws governing your neighborhood.

If you want to build a fence that somehow contradicts your city’s fencing regulations, you can apply to your local zoning board for a variance. For example, if your home faces a particularly busy street and you want to erect a tall, thick fence to cut down on street noise, your zoning board may allow that.

If you are a member of an HOA, you will need to follow their rules as well. Otherwise, you may face fines or nasty disputes. Some HOAs aim for a consistent style throughout the neighborhood; for example, they may allow residents to build only with cedar fencing materials to create a particularly Pacific Northwest feel. If your HOA publishes fence design guidelines, you may not have much wiggle room as far as the design of your fence is concerned.

2. Respect property boundaries.

Avoid problems with the neighbors later on by carefully building your fence on your side of the property line. Many companies that sell Portland fencing materials recommend installing new fences one foot inside of the property line, to stay on the safe side and avoid disputes. If you are unsure where the property line is for your home, study your plat or house line drawing.

Be sure to talk to your neighbors before building the fence. While there’s no need to divulge the design for your fence materials, Portland residents would be wise to come to an agreement with their neighbors about how they will gain access to maintain the fence.

3. Choose a neighborly fence design.

Some fence designs are more “neighborly” than others. For example, cedar fence materials may be used to build a “good neighbor” fence that looks the same on both sides and therefore pleases both sets of neighbors. Good neighbor fences feature small gaps between vertical boards, allowing passing pedestrians to enjoy a momentary glimpse into the fenced-off area. As a side note, Portland fencing materials don’t usually have to stand up to much wind, but in other areas of the country a fence can be blown down if no wind is permitted to pass through it. Good neighbor fences allow wind to blow through them and are therefore a smart choice in locations that tend to see high winds.

If you’d rather not afford a view of your backyard to passersby, consider a fence design that is identical on both sides. You can jazz up this kind of fence by adding a trellis section along the top or topping off fence posts with caps.

Finally, as when considering fence materials, Portland homeowners should remember that the return on investment will be higher (and the neighbors will probably be happier) if you match your fence design to the style of your home and the rest of the neighborhood. A loud purple fence may not go over well with the neighbors.

4. Maintain both sides of the fence.

According to most states’ law books, if you put up a fence, it is your responsibility to maintain both sides of it. Regular maintenance will prevent your neighbors from feeling like your fence is an eyesore. Maintenance requirements vary according to the fence material you use.  For example, vinyl fencing will look wonderful with nothing more than a regular wipe-down with soap and water. Cedar fence materials, on the other hand, must be cleaned and resealed every couple of years. Good neighbors should offer to split the cost of fence repairs, as both parties benefit from having the fence in place.

Given their proximity to your home, your neighbors can make your life heaven or hell. You’re more likely to have a heavenly home life if you think about how the neighbors might feel when you put up your new fence.

[ photo by: crabchick ]

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