A fence viewer resolves disputes over shared property boundary lines and supervises the construction of walls, fences, hedges, and other markers that separate them. They were assigned to deal with problems involving roaming livestock in colonial America. They may still do so today, but they are primarily engaged in urban settlements. The fence viewer may have a paid position in some areas, but others may have an unpaid appointment or be volunteers. They’re more like arbitrators and inspectors than police officers.
In terms of height, placement, materials, and who is responsible for construction or demolition if the fence is illegal, fences must adhere to municipal law. The laws that established the responsibilities of a fence viewer may have changed over time. In Massachusetts, for example, much of the land that was cleared for agricultural purposes in the 17th century is now forested. Property owners no longer have to worry about livestock or crop damage as a result of the change in usage.
In most jurisdictions, the homeowner will submit a request for a viewing to the city clerk’s office. A visit is then scheduled with the fence viewer, usually within 30 days. They examine the fence on-site, taking into account the terrain, the fence’s intended purpose, and the applicable legislation. They usually discuss any concerns about the fence’s height, encroachment, or who is responsible for payment if the fence needs to be repaired or dismantled with the landowners.
The determination of shared cost is based on whether the fence’s construction provides mutual benefit to the owners. The right hand rule is used in many areas to determine this. The middle is marked a fence viewer, and each neighbor is responsible for roughly half of the fence to their right. The viewer can check to see if a previous agreement is reasonable and then register it with the city or county so that it applies to future buyers of the property.
Surprise fences, or those built above a certain height to annoy or block neighbors, are illegal in many areas. A fence viewer may be summoned to determine whether the structure complies with local rules and regulations. If the builder has built a spite fence, the offended party may sue to have it lowered or removed under public nuisance laws. In addition to the modification requirements, monetary damages may be awarded.
There are no special educational requirements for fence viewers; instead, they must agree to carry out the duties outlined in the statutes. There may be up to three fence viewers in some districts. This can help in tense situations where opposing viewpoints collide, and the third person can act as a neutral tie-breaker. When a landowner disagrees with the decision, he or she can usually appeal it to the district court. Landowners involved in the case may be required to pay a small fee, with a portion of that fee going to the fence viewer in exchange for their services.