Nothing can make a relationship with a neighbor more strained than having to deal with a shared fence issue. By definition, fences are intended to mark the boundary between properties and are difficult to place direct ownership on them.
Check the Boundary
Just because you have always accepted that an existing fence goes right along the property line, doesn’t mean that it actually does. Examining official property documents and even having a professional topographical survey done can help get the facts.
Technically, most local laws would state that both neighbors are equally responsible. So any repair work would be covered equally by both parties. The problem is that equal responsibility means that neither party can force the other either. Paying equally works fine if both parties are happy with the project. If you want a new fence and the neighbor does not, then you have a problem.
When You Disagree
If your neighbor refuses to pay their share, you may have some options. The simplest is that you just pay for it yourself and leave it at that. It may not be fair but at least you get the fence you want without any hassles.
In a situation where the fence is in bad repair, unsightly or even dangerous, you probably have the legal standing to force the neighbor to pay their half because the work is necessary. On the other hand, just because you want a new style of fence for aesthetic reasons, you probably can’t force them to chip in if they don’t want to.
Taking a neighbor to court over a fence can be satisfying when you win but you will put a strain on your relationship when it’s all over. That may or may not be something to worry about if you see other shared interests being an issue in the future.
Eliminate the Confusion
One of the best ways to avoid any confrontations about shared fences is to avoid having them in the first place. Have any boundary fences clearly on one side or the other. While a small strip of property may be sacrificed, and the cost will then fall on one neighbor, it means that the fence is under one person’s control and they can make their own decisions in the future.
Take care with this approach though, as your neighbor may have a valid claim against your fence if they can prove that it detracts from their own property enjoyment. Often referred to as a “spite fence“, there are specific laws against putting up a fence simply to annoy a neighbor. It usually only applies if you put up an excessively high or ugly fence for no apparent reason. As long as your fence is reasonable, you shouldn’t have any legal issues.
The bottom line is that a shared fence is legally the responsibility of both parties, and all costs are supposed to be shared equally. All of these points would also apply to a hedge as well as a fence.