Good fences can make bad neighbors
by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: When the old fence between our property and our neighbors’ collapsed, we agreed to split the cost of a new one. No matter what kind of fence we propose, though, they object. At this point, can we just put up a fence we like and pay for it ourselves? Or can we bill them for half?
Answer: Your property, your call. Feel free to build any fence you choose, as long as it conforms to municipal ordinances and is on your side of the property line. But forget about sending that bill. You can’t expect your neighbors to pay for a fence they didn’t agree to. And while it’s true that they may benefit from it, that’s beside the point. Were they to re-landscape their front yard or repaint their house, you’d hardly expect to pay a portion of the cost, even if these improvements dramatically increase the curb appeal - and the value - of your home.
Before you install the fence, though, tell your neighbors about your plans. Since you’ve already agreed to share the cost and selection of the fence with them, you need to tell them that rather than wait any longer, you’ve decided to move ahead on your own.
Finally, while you’re under no ethical obligation to cater to their tastes, you do want to have a good relationship with your next-door neighbors, right? So put up a fence they might not love but that you’re fairly confident they’re unlikely to hate. After all, you don’t want to give them good reason to ignore your preferences when they work on their property.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.