Many residential properties are situated in close proximity to each other. To provide privacy and a clear marker of where the property lines are, many homeowners use fencing companies to erect privacy fences. This often consists of one fence that forms a boundary between two side or backyards. If you purchase a piece of property years later and the residential fence has fallen into disrepair, you may wonder who’s legally responsible to pay for a new fence.

Real estate law states that unless owners of the properties separated by the boundary fence have a written agreement that states otherwise, it is the responsibility of both owners to keep the fence maintained. Surprising, right? This law applies because you can make an argument that both neighbors benefit from the fence’s existence. While shared responsibility seem like good news in terms of cost, it actually makes things slightly more complicated.

For one thing, you may consider the fence to be in poor condition while your neighbor may think it’s perfectly fine. You may also want to get the fence fixed immediately while your neighbor would rather wait until a time when they have extra money to do it. Even if you both agree on condition and timing, your neighbor could claim that it’s a DIY job, while you might think that it’s definitely a job for a professional fence company.

If you want to fix or replace a fence, and your neighbor isn’t willing to play ball, the law states that you have one of several options. You can go ahead and hire someone to do the work and then provide your neighbor with written proof of the cost, along with a letter requesting 50 percent payment. If they ignore you or refuse, mediation or a lawsuit is your next option. If the disagreement arises around the issue of whether or not the fence is actually in disrepair, one or both of you can request a “fence viewer” from the state or local government to asses the situation.