Most neighbors are relatively friendly and have no qualms living in a community. However, once in a while, it happens that there is an eccentric neighbor who out of the slightest provocation or none at all, puts up an ugly fence, now aptly named the spite fence. A spite fence is one designed to annoy the neighbors and conveys little to no benefit to the owner.
Spite fencing has a long history, right from the infamous Yung and Crocker dispute. Due to a disagreement between the two over the sale of property, one party ended up building a 40-foot wall that became a tourist attraction and a harrowing reminder that neighborliness is a brittle concept; if not handled the right way. Simmering tensions and irrational decisions motivated by emotion can cause costly litigation linked to property rights.
DIFFERENT LAWS GOVERNING SPITE FENCING
In a court case in Massachusetts in 1889, the court opined that fences exceeding six feet tall and erected maliciously with the purpose of annoying residents in adjacent properties were deemed to cause a nuisance. Other states soon followed, including California, Indiana, Rhode Island, New York, and Wisconsin.
However, different locales have different recommendations. In some states such as New York, exceeding ten feet automatically qualifies the wall as a maliciously erected structure as it prevents the enjoyment of light and air. In Santa Barbra, for example, the provisions of the law limit the height of hedges to three and a half feet, if they are within 10 feet of the driveway.
However, challenges arise when a defendant demonstrates that the fence is not intended to annoy and that he or she draws benefit from it. In such cases, courts rule that it is not a spite fence. The burden of proof lies in showing the court that fence was installed with malicious intent. There are a variety of reasons why spite fencing is bad for all people involved.
SPITE FENCING LOWERS THE QUALITY OF LIFE
High walls often have an impact on the day to day lives of all neighbors. The common disputes that arise from such spite fences revolve around impeded view and access to light. Tall walls block light, air flow, and obstruct the view to homes. Consequently, the owner of the wall and the adjacent neighbors fail to receive adequate light and air.
CAN INCREASE THE RISK OF ACCIDENTS
Frequently, fences border roads. Therefore, barriers need to be short because taller fences inevitably obscure full vision of drivers using the adjacent road. Tall walls can also present danger to vehicles coming in and backing out of driveways because of the way they obstruct the driver’s view. In some cases, drivers are unable to see children playing on the road if there is a bend. Intersections can also become deadly black spots. Children of the offenders who build spite fences also suffer the same fate caused by the tall fences. Therefore, there is no clear beneficiary from spite fencing.
LITIGATION CONCERNING SPITE FENCING WASTES TIME
Laws governing the regulation of fencing are often complex, and since most disputes about fences are handled at the local level, there are no standard procedures to deal with them. Local authorities hence fail to take minor infractions seriously because the costs involved often outweigh the benefits. Consequently, spite fencing proceedings take time to resolve.
SPITE FENCING DOES NOT ADDRESS UNDERLYING HOSTILITY
Since emotions motivate spite fencing disputes, they need a reconciliatory approach. Essentially, spite fences are not the disease but the symptom. Constructing a fence does not solve such problems. It only acts as a temporary solution. Dispute resolution is a better approach because neighborliness is a crucial component to a high-quality life.
DEPRECIATES THE BEAUTY OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Obnoxious spite fences often cause deterioration in the aesthetic value of a neighborhood. Subsequently, such fences might cause a drop in the value of the property of such neighborhoods. All stakeholders lose out on value.
Evidently, spite fencing has more drawbacks than it does benefits. It is imperative to cultivate neighborliness because regulations on fencing are not meant to invade privacy, but are aimed at enhancing the common good of the community.