At the end of last year, I closed escrow on an investment property. Five days later there was a huge windstorm, which took down 24 feet of fence. My initial reaction was: “why couldn’t this have happened ten days ago?” My second thought was: thank goodness I’d already developed a good relationship with the neighbor on the other side. We were quickly able to negotiate the replacement of the fence, and split the cost 50/50.
It can be a challenge when you have to repair or replace a “shared fence” and the owner on the other side is unwilling to contribute their fair share of the cost. As a landlord, there are certainly circumstances that require you to address a damaged fence quickly. For example, if your tenants have children who could “wander off,” or the neighbors have a dog that might be considered dangerous, a damaged or missing fence keeps you from providing the required safe and secure property. Accordingly, you’d need to address this situation quickly, even when the neighbor is trying to avoid responsibility and participation.
In 2014, the California Civil Code addressed this issue, and made the responsibilities of contiguous fence owners much clearer. You can’t presume that you’ll just be able to install a new fence and then send a bill to your neighbor. If you did so and wound up in court trying to collect, you might not prevail. You have to proceed according to Code 654.1422, which means you have to provide written notification of the following to the other party, at least 30 days in advance of any planned repair or replacement:
- An explanation of what needs to be done;
- A substantial justification of why it needs to be done;
- A detailed analysis of the neighbor’s expected responsibility, including measurements and costs as appropriate;
- The total anticipated cost of the replacement (include any written documentation);
- The dollar amount that each party will pay; and
- The anticipated start date of the project (which should be at least 30 days from date of letter).
If the fence is down, you might very well need to prop it up or come up with a temporary solution for those 30 days, so your property remains safe and secure. However, in order to ensure your neighbor’s contribution if you’re installing a permanent solution, you must follow the Civil Code referenced above.
There are some arguably rare circumstances where courts might find it justifiable that the neighbor is waived of financial responsibility. However, those are fairly obscure and infrequent reasons. Normally, as long as you have followed the process properly and you’ve taken the required steps to document your intent and expectations, your neighbor is expected to cooperate.
If a property manager is doing the job on your behalf, you should be able to relax, knowing that this potentially complicated process has been simplified. Contact us at DeDe’s Rentals, and we’d be happy to help you.