Pennsylvania's Fence Line Laws

by Noemi Mendez 04/25/2021

Image by Mohamed Nuzrath from Pixabay

During the 19th century and into the early 20th century, fences were usually erected to keep livestock on a property owner’s property. Most of those laws were struck down in the early 20th century, including the law that said a neighbor had to share in the cost of building and maintenance of the fence. This law made it so that you did not have to share in the costs of building and maintaining a boundary fence that your neighbor put up to keep his cows in.

In 1999, the court struck down the fence law that stated that residential landowners had to share the costs of building and maintaining the fence if one of the neighbors did not want or need the fence.

Boundary Trees

Instead of fences, some people have trees on the boundary line – whether they grew because Mother Nature put them there or because someone planted the trees. If a tree is on a boundary line, it belongs to both neighbors, which means that neither neighbor can cut the tree down or trim it without the other’s permission. However, one neighbor can trim the tree up to the boundary line without the other neighbor’s permission – she can’t trim on or over the boundary line.

Boundary by Consent

In some cases, you might get into a dispute with your neighbor over where a boundary line is located. If you come to an agreement as to where the boundary line is and put up a fence, and the fence ends up being on the other person’s property, you can file an adverse possession claim after 21 years. In this case, a buyer can tack on his time to the seller’s claim to equal the 21 years. The buyer does not have to start counting from the first year.

In order to have a viable consentable line, each neighbor had to have claimed the land as her own and 21 years have had to pass. The fence serves as “recognition and acquiescence” of the boundary line by both neighbors.

Pennsylvania Spite Fences

Sometimes neighbors erect fences just to spite another neighbor. While Pennsylvania does not have a spite fence law, the injured neighbor could file a nuisance complaint if the complainant owns the land, and the defendant's actions interfere with the ability for you to enjoy your property. Additionally, the "interference" needs to be substantial and unreasonable. The fence might be on your side of the boundary line, or the fence could be considered an eyesore.

Current Fence Laws

After the state struck down many of the fence laws, local governments created fence laws. Before you erect a fence, check with your local government as to the laws. For example, how high can you build a fence in the front or rear of your house? How far from the street must the fence be?

If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association, check with the association as to their rules. The homeowner’s association might have stricter rules than your city or county.

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Noemi Mendez

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