Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

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In 1914, poet Robert Frost wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." This is still true today in Nebraska, whether we live on an acreage or a large ranch. Keeping livestock out of fields, gardens, and off other's property is just part of being a good neighbor. Keeping fences in good repair can help to build good relationships with neighbors.

For many years, Nebraska has been a fence-in state, in which livestock owners are liable for any damages caused by trespassing livestock. This trespass liability created an obligation on the part of livestock owners to restrain the animals, but not a specific requirement that the animals be fenced in.

The 2010 Unicameral revised Nebraska's division fence statutes by enacting Legislative Bill 667. The primary change is that the cost of a wire division fence is split 50-50 in all cases, except where the neighbors have agreed to a different division of the fence cost.

Under LB 667, the costs for constructing and maintaining a division fence are divided 50-50, even if only one landowner owns livestock. If a landowner wants to build a division fence or repair an existing fence, he must give written notice to the neighbor. If the neighbor does not agree, the landowner files a suit in county court. If the parties agree to negotiate the cost and work, the judge may refer the case to mediation. Otherwise, it goes to trial. LB667 does specify that a barbed wire fence is the default division fence unless both landowners agree to a different type of fence.

The likely result of the 2010 division fence statutes is that once landowners realize they will have to pay 50 percent of a new division fence, most landowners will pay their share or else build their half of the fence as per the right hand rule.

Hopefully, most landowners also will agree to the right hand rule approach for fence maintenance, which would simplify fence maintenance disputes.

If a neighbor is not maintaining his half of the fence, the other landowner can notify the neighbor of the need for repair. If the neighbor does not agree, then the two parties may go to court. Maintaining a fence includes keeping trees and shrubs out of the fence line. Each landowner is responsible for removal or trimming trees or shrubs within or encroaching upon the fence line.

Building good fences and maintaining them is just one of the many responsibilities that come with owning livestock and living in the country.

Steve Tonn, Extension Educator