Have you ever walked by an extremely ugly fence with absolutely no purpose and wondered why it was constructed? Or passed by an unseemly fence that is tall and ugly with no upfront use and wondered why it was built? Well if so then the name of that fence is a spite fence.
A spite fence is an unseemly tall fence constructed with the main aim of displeasing or annoying a neighbour, especially one you share property lines. The spite fence which is meant to completely obstruct the view of the offending property, block air and reduce the value.
Spite fences can be made out of wood but some property owners resort to tall rows of trees, bushes and shrubs. Spite fences have been around for decades and have served as a great tool for landowners to annoy and offend their border neighbours.
Are Spite Fences Legal?
While building a spite fence might be a way of getting back at a neighbour, it is declared illegal by some states. Unnecessarily tall fences might be classified as spite fences unless the land owner can prove there is a legitimate reason the fence was constructed.A row of trees, bushes and hedges that are unseemingly tall can also be considered as spite fences and the same laws apply.
Many states in the United States like California, Washington, Florida, and Massachusetts etcetera have declared spite fences illegal and a private disturbance. These states have laws against landowners with offending fences with consequences like paying a fine for damages to the neighbour, a court order to pay for removal of fence etcetera.
This means that neighbours can sue their bordering neighbour if they deem their fence to be a spite fence and landowners can be ordered by their local courts to remove the offending fence. Other countries like the United Kingdom and Ireland also have laws against spite fences.
How Tall Can a Fence be?
While constructing a fence between your property and a neighbour’s property in a state where spite fences are illegal, it is important to note the height restrictions.In the states in the United States where spite fences are illegal, fences of any kind including wood, a row of trees, a row of bushes etc.
The law states that a border fence between two neighbours should not exceed three (3) metres or ten (10) feet in height and should not obstruct a neighbour’s view or natural light. Any fence that exceeds these dimensions and blocks a neighbour’s view is regarded as a spite fence and offenders can be charged in court.
However, places like golf courses, stadiums and sport centres are allowed to have fences over the 3 metre (10 foot) height. The fences of these locations, although taller than the stipulated height, are not regarded as spite fences because the tall fences have an essential use.
The use of very high fences in places like golf courses, stadiums and sport centres is mainly to keep the balls from flying over the fence into neighbouring properties. The tall fences can also be used to reduce the noise coming from these locations. Since the fences have important uses, they cannot be deemed spite fences.
Example of a Spite Fence
Before the ban of spite fences in many western states by placing a height limit on fences, there were many spite fences all over the developed world. This was because owning land was one of man’s greatest achievements and many people were very territorial about their properties.
Here are some major examples of spite fences
1. The Marino Crescent in Dublin, Ireland
The marino crescent was built in 1792 as a spite wall. It was constructed by Charles Ffolliott with the aim of blocking the view of the dublin bay by his neighbours who lived in the then marino house and the casino at marino. His neighbour was James Caulfied, who was the first earl of Charlemont and greatly coveted his land holdings. The marino crescent stands till this day.
2. Connie Mack spite fence, philadelphia.
The Connie Mack spite fence was built in the 1930s in the state of Philadelphia, USA. The thirty-four (34) feet fence was built on shibe park which was a baseball stadium as a means to block the stadium’s view from a neighbouring residence. The fence was named after the team’s manager Connie mack.
3. The Redneck Stonehenge, Hooper, Utah.
The redneck stonehenge was built in 2008 by a farmer in hooper, utah to annoy his neighbour after an argument. The fence was made out of three cars stacked vertically upright and was named the redneck stonehenge by the farmer. The redneck reference is due to his caucasian descent and residence in the south of the United states and the stonehenge is a stack of rocks.
Can I Build a Spite Fence?
You could build a spite fence but you might get into trouble for it. While a spite fence might annoy your neighbour, there are many states where they are illegal and serious consequences can arise from constructing a spite fence if you reside in one of those states.
In other states you can build a spite fence without any restrictions. This is because spite fences are not a direct attack and they can be hard to deem illegal.
Although many states have put restrictions on the height a fence can be, other states leave it up to the neighbours. Therefore building a spite fence depends mainly on the state you reside in and their laws regarding spite fences.
Can I Remove a Neighbour’s Spite Fence?
Removing a neighbour’s spite fence has to be done through all the right steps. This means that you are not allowed to simply remove the fence without first undergoing the following steps.
- Establish ownership; if the spite fence is outside of your property line and does not belong to you, you have no right to the fence and cannot have it removed.
- Send a notice; before removing a spite fence a notice should be sent thirty (30) days in advance to warn your bordering neighbour about the removal of the fence.
- Sue the neighbour; if your neighbour erects a spite fence, you can sue them in a local court. If the neighbour is found guilty of having erected a spite fence, they will be ordered to take it down and in some cases, pay a fine.
Following the right channels will ensure that the spite fence is taken down and that the neighbour knows not to erect another spite fence in its place.