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Urban Fences

Contributed by Anahita Surya and current to April 2018

Information for Owners

What are my rights and responsibilities?

A common side or rear fence is the joint responsibility of all property owners who share the fence. You and your neighbour are responsible for half the cost of constructing and maintaining a basic urban fence (hardwood, 1.5m) (Common Boundaries Act 1981 (ACT)). Other fence types can be erected, but all neighbours must agree on cost and design beforehand.

When does a dispute arise?

Common fencing disputes include:
  • Refusing to pay for repair or construction;
  • Disagreements about whether a fence is needed;
  • Disagreements about the type of fencing;
  • Disagreements about maintenance;
  • Disagreements about location of boundary.
Resolving the issue in a friendly manner is best for all parties involved. If you need mediation support, contact the ACT Conflict Resolution Service on 02 6162 4050 for confidential and affordable assistance. If unsuccessful, you can make a formal complaint.

To talk to someone about your dispute, contact the Legal Aid ACT Helpline (9am to 4pm on weekdays) on 1300 654 314.

How do I lodge a complaint against my neighbour?

Before you apply, you must:
  • Give your neighbour a letter/notice outlining your concerns. A template can be found on the ACAT website;
  • Wait 1 month from the day you give the letter (if you are applying for compensation for urgent fence repairs, the waiting requirement is 14 days).
If the letter does not lead to a desired outcome, submit a Fence Dispute Application form to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). You will have to pay an application fees. In some cases, this fee may be waived. More information on costs can be found on the ACAT website. ACAT will either convene a conference or hold a hearing. ACAT can make the following determinations/orders (You must specify which order you are seeking in your application):
  • New fence determination - requiring your neighbour to agree to and pay for half the cost of constructing a fence;
  • Repair determination - requiring your neighbour to agree to and pay for half the cost of repairing a fence.;
  • Repair cost determination - requiring your neighbour to compensate you for half the cost of repainting a fence that needed urgent repairs to prevent harm to people or animals living in the property.
You and your neighbour are required to comply with ACAT's determination. Breach of an order can lead to proceedings in the Magistrate's Court.

For more detailed information on the ACAT process, visit the ACAT website.

Fences adjoining unleased/unoccupied land

You may be required to erect a fence if you live next to unleased/unoccupied land (s 23, Common Boundaries Act 1981 (ACT)). If neighbouring land becomes occupied, ACAT can make an order requiring the new occupiers/neighbours to share fencing costs.

Fences on unit title

The process of making a complaint is identical to non-unit title properties (described above).

You may also be able to pursue formal action by complaining to your owners corporation if your neighbour is breaching the rules of the owners corporation. If your dispute is with the owners corporation, you can apply to ACAT.

When the dispute is between the apartment/townhouse block and an adjacent property, the owners corporation will share joint responsibility for fencing work with the occupier of the adjacent property.

Unit Title Property (Strata) and Neighbourhood Disputes provides more information on unit title disputes and complaint mechanisms.

Information for tenants

Your obligations depend on the terms of your tenancy agreement. Usually, the owner of the property is responsible for fences. Contact your landlord or real estate agent if your neighbour is building/repairing a fence. For more information on tenancy, refer to Tenants' Union factsheets.

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