Facts about: Fences
This fact sheet helps you work out what to do if you and your neighbour have a dispute when building or repairing a fence. You can download a copy of the fact sheet here (.pdf 97kb).
There are four possible steps you can take to resolve a fencing dispute:
- Talk to your neighbour.
- Get help from a mediator.
- Begin the notice to fence or notice to repair process.
- Complete the repairs or construction yourself.
Step 1: Talk to your neighbour
Building a fence
Normally neighbours pay equal amounts for building a sufficient fence between their properties. A sufficient fence is one that is the standard or common fence in your neighbourhood. If you want a bigger or better fence than the standard type and your neighbour doesn’t, then you may have to pay the extra cost involved.
Repairing a fence
Neighbours also normally pay equal amounts towards repairs. However, if repairs are the fault of one neighbour (e.g. their dog chewed it) then they must organise and pay for repairs within one month of damage occurring. If repairs are not completed within a month you can do the repairs yourself. If your neighbour does not pay you for the cost of repairs, you can file a small claim in the local court against your neighbour to recover the cost.
If you and your neighbour cannot agree, you will have to serve them with a written notice. Repairs needed for ‘acts of god’ (e.g. lightning, flood, etc) can be repaired immediately by one or both neighbours without the need for a notice to be served.
If your neighbour is a tenant
When your neighbour is a tenant you should negotiate directly with the owner or agent. Ask the tenant if they know the name and address of the owner. If they don’t you will have to enquire at the council or land titles office.
Step 2: Get help from a mediator
Try to agree
Going to court can be expensive, and it is unlikely to help your relationship with your neighbour in the future. If you can’t talk about the problem with your neighbour, a mediator can help you come to an agreement. A mediator will not decide who is right or wrong and they can’t impose a decision on you like a court can. For more information about mediation, contact the Community Justice Centre on 1800 000 473.
Put it in writing
It is a good idea to put any agreement you reach in writing. State clearly what you agree to: the type of fence, amount to be paid, position of the fence, and completion date. Don’t forget to sign and date your agreement.
Step 3: Begin notice to fence or notice to repair process
Preparing the notice
If you and your neighbour have been unable to reach an agreement on the work needing to be done on the fence, the cost, or how you will divide the cost, you should prepare a written notice.
If you are building a new fence, this notice is called a notice to fence. If you are repairing an existing fence it is called a notice to repair. The notice can take the form of a simple letter, which should include:
- where the fence is to be built/repaired
- how the fence will be built/repaired
- type of fence to be built/repaired
- estimated cost and contribution expected from both of you
- date the fence must be built/repaired by.
The notice should be delivered in person or sent by registered mail to the owner of the neighbouring property. Make sure you keep a copy of the notice and the registered mail receipt for your own records.
If you do not know where the owner lives then you will need to search local council rates books or contact the Land Titles Office to find out their name and address. You may have to prove to the court that you made reasonable efforts to contact the owner.
If the owner agrees to the notice to fence or notice to repair then they should sign the notice and return it to you. If, for any reason, they go back on the agreement, you can take the signed document to court to be enforced.
After you’ve served the notice
Your neighour has one month from the time they are served with the notice to reach agreement with you about the construction or repair of the fence. If agreement is not reached within a month you can apply to the court to decide the matter. This may be costly and cause delays. If you do go to court, the judge will make an order about the type of fence or repair, how much you should each pay, when the fence must be constructed or repaired, and the positioning of the fence or repair.
Getting your neighbour to obey your agreement or the court order
Once the date for construction or repair of the fence (as specified in the agreement or court order) has passed you can go ahead and do the agreed work.
Entry to your neighbour’s property to build or repair a fence
You, or anyone helping you to build or repair a fence, can go onto your neighbour’s land at all reasonable times to do whatever is necessary to build or repair the fence.
If no date was specified for the work, then you must wait for six months from the date of the order or the agreement before you can go ahead and build the fence, or three months before you can repair the fence. If your neighbour does not pay their share, you can lodge a small claim in the local court.
A small claim is a claim for an amount of money up to $10 000 or a work order (an order that a defendant perform work, return, repair, or replace goods).
Call the Legal Aid Helpline on 1800 019 343 if you would like information on making a small claim or need an appointment for legal advice.
Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission
Call the Legal Aid Helpline 1800 019 343 (free call)
People who speak other languages can access the Legal Aid Helpline by calling the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50 and asking for the interpreter to connect them to the Legal Aid Helpline.
Disclaimer: The information in this fact sheet is current as at April 2018. This content is provided as an information source only and is not legal advice. It is correct at the time of publication, but laws change. If you have a legal problem you should seek advice from a lawyer.