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Family forum: Good neighbours?

Good fences don’t always make good neighbours

QUESTION:

We have just built a house in a new estate development. Our lot is in the corner and next to us was a vacant lot but it was recently sold. We moved in last year and put up a fence for safety and security because we have a four-year-old son. A short while after we moved in, our soon-to-be neighbours left us a letter stating that we must remove the fence so their builder can start building. They are going to have a garage that will serve as a boundary.

At first, they agreed to pay half the cost of removing the fence. Then three days after our conversation, they came to our house telling us that they were not going to pay because we did not tell them about the fence. They also said we should have put up temporary fencing.

The way they speak to us, we feel as if we have no choice but to do what they want. But do we have the right to an adjoining fence? Who’s responsible for paying for the removal of the existing fence, since we moved in next to vacant land?

ANSWER:

The Panel suggests that you start by trying an approach that will be a basis for a good relationship, not one that will get you off to a bad start. Both of you should bear in mind that you may be neighbours for years. Some give and take is called for.

When the garage wall is being built, your neighbours and their builder may well ask for your co-operation. For example, the builder might ask for permission to enter your land for some purpose. You might want the wall to be rendered. There are various things that might crop up.

A friendly discussion about these things, including removal of the fence (for which they probably need your agreement) should open the way to a sensible arrangement. A good start would be a friendly letter from you, outlining why you would like to meet.

If this does not work, each of you will have to fall back on your legal rights and obligations, but this will be expensive and frustrating, and less flexible than a mutually agreeable arrangement.
For more information, visit the Legal Services Commission website (lsc.sa.gov.au) and download a copy of its brochure Fences and The Law: lsc.sa.gov.au/resources/FencesandtheLawBooklet.pdf

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Family Forum is a panel of general practitioners, medical specialists, lawyers, therapeutic and financial counsellors to discuss each letter before the appropriate professional answers it. The panel is appointed by Relationships Australia SA.

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