Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program
Here at the OSU Extension Farm Office, we get questions about all sorts of topics, but one topic in particular shows up in our inbox rather frequently. Line fence laws regulate those fences, sometimes called partition fences, that are located on a property boundary between adjacent parcels of land. Ohio has had laws on this topic for well over a hundred years, and these laws represent an important piece of history in the development of property rights in our state. While one might hope that by now all the kinks and questions would be resolved, there are still some misunderstandings and gray areas about the law that we grapple with to this day.
In order to help landowners better understand their rights and responsibilities, the OSU Extension Farm Office team has complied a number of resources about Ohio’s line fence laws on our website at farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/line-fence-law. When the Ohio General Assembly significantly changed the line fence provisions in the Ohio Revised Code in 2008, our director, Peggy Kirk Hall, wrote a number of fact sheets that provide an overview of the changes, summaries of key elements of the law, and also guides for townships.
The Ohio Line Fence Law Fact Sheet provides an in depth look at the 2008 changes. It explains what a line fence is, how costs are allocated, the different types of line fences addressed, special rules for line fences containing livestock, procedures for building a fence, procedures for disputes between neighbors, and more. A shorter summary of that same information is available in the fact sheet titled, A Summary of Ohio’s Line Fence Law.
In addition to the overviews of the law, there are also resources that explain particular aspects of the law more in depth, along with guides for township officials. These include:
- Alternative Landowner Agreements Under Ohio’s Line Fence Law
- Ohio Partition Fence Law: A Procedural Guide for Townships
- Notice of Rights and Responsibilities for Townships
Over the course of the decade following the 2008 changes, a number of questions continued to be asked by landowners across the state, so we compiled a Frequently Asked Questions law bulletin. Instead of only explaining what the law says, this law bulletin takes a question and answer approach that goes through questions associated with scenarios such as:
- My neighbor wants to install a new fence on a never fenced boundary
- My neighbor wants to permanently remove an existing fence
- My neighbor wants to replace an old fence on our property boundary
The FAQ law bulletin also looks at the role of township trustees, and what the law says about fence construction and upkeep.
While these publications cover a lot of information, sometimes we get a new question that has yet to make it into one of our publications. The following represent a few of those questions.
Right to access neighbor’s property applies to fence construction, not removal
Ohio Revised Code § 971.08 provides a landowner with a ten foot right to access his or her neighbor’s property in order to construct a new line fence or to maintain an existing fence. If the landowner or the landowner’s contractor causes damage to his or her neighbor’s property, the landowner will be liable for that damage, including damage to crops. However, as there is a separate statute for removing a line fence located at Ohio Revised Code § 971.17, the right of access to construct or maintain a fence does not clearly include a right to enter onto a neighbor’s property in order to remove a line fence. Under this statute, a landowner who enters his or her neighbor’s land could be liable for trespass.
Written notice is required prior to removing a fence
Ohio Revised Code § 971.17 requires a property owner to give written notice to his or her neighbor at least 28 days in advance of removing a shared line fence. If a landowner or the landowner’s contractor enters the neighbor’s property to remove a fence without sufficient notice, that could constitute a trespass under Ohio Revised Code § 971.17. This notice requirement is intended to ensure that the landowner has a chance to protest the removal or at least discuss the terms of the removal.
Trees on the property line are the shared property of the neighboring landowners
One thing not specifically addressed in Ohio’s line fence laws is the issue of trees on the property line. Ohio Revised Code § 971.33 requires landowners to keep all fence corners and a four foot strip along the entirety of a fence clear of brush, briers, thistles, and other noxious weeds. However, this statute specifically says that it does not apply to the planting of vines or trees for use. Because these are specifically excluded from this noxious weeds statute, the common law as made by courts will apply.
The common law provides that trees on the property line are owned by both landowners and do not have to be cleared from the fence row. This means that if one landowner wants to remove a tree on the property line, that landowner must seek permission from his or her neighbor. Even though the landowner owns half of the tree, the landowner cannot interfere with his or her neighbor’s property interest in the tree. Without his or her neighbor’s permission, the landowner could be liable for removing the tree or even cutting it in a manner that causes the tree to die. Because of Ohio’s reckless destruction of trees and crops statute in Ohio Revised Code § 901.51, a person who cuts, destroys, or injures a tree located on the land of another could be liable for up to three times the value of the tree.
If you have a question about Ohio’s line fence law, let us know, and we will try to find an answer. Much like we tell students and those who attend our presentations, it is likely that someone else has the same question as you. Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for more updates about questions we receive about Ohio’s line fence law.