Dividing Fences: A Mini-Guide for Australian Homeowners

There are a number of important aspects of the law that homeowners in Australia should familiarize themselves with if they want to avoid a dispute or legal problems and one of the key issues relating to your property border, is what you can and can’t do with any fencing that you are putting up.

Restrictions exist regarding the style of dividing fence that you might be able to use and many local councils have slightly different rules which affect the type of fencing that you  might be allowed to use and whether there are any restrictive covenants in place or heritage protection issues.

Here is a look at some of the key points of The Dividing Fences Act 1991 and what it may mean for you and your plans to use fencing as a way of marking out your plot of land and providing a level of security.

Neighbors responsibilities

One of the main points to remember about the Dividing Fences Act is that it is there to regulate neighbors responsibilities towards dividing fences and one of its primary objectives is to help settle some of the contentious aspects that can sometimes apply to sharing a fence with your neighbor.

There is actually nothing in the Act that is likely to prevent you from reaching an agreement between you and your neighbor about a fence, it is mainly there to provide guidance and a legal framework if negotiations are proving troublesome.

The purpose of the Act

The Act applies whenever there is a situation where a landowner requires an adjoining owner to make a contribution towards the cost of constructing, maintaining, repairing or replacing a dividing fence. It also is designed to cover issues such as how to share the cost, their location and also the standard of the dividing fences that are intended on being used.

It should be remembered that the Act relates to private property ownership and it does not therefore apply to public authorities such as those with control over public parks or Crown land. Despite the fact that these public authorities are not liable under the terms of the Act, it does not actually restrict them from entering into fencing agreements and in practice, they are often willing to look at making some contribution and abide by the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

Type of fencing

The Act is designed to cover all aspects of potential disputes and negotiations between adjoining landowners and this extends to not just where the fencing is located but also the design and materials that are being proposed.

The construction, repair, maintenance and subsequent replacement of fencing can all be the cause of disagreements and if one owner believes that timber fencing is often not worth the effort and would prefer to use more practical low-maintenance alternatives such as aluminium and steel fencing, then hopefully an agreement can be reached between the two parties, using the Act for guidance if necessary.

Some homeowners like the aesthetic appeal of wooden fencing and might therefore be opposed to using aluminium or steel as the construction material, but there are now products like Smartwood fencing, which provides the appearance of traditional timber and picket fences, but are actually coated to provide a high level of protection from the weather and virtually eliminate any potential arguments with neighboring properties about ongoing maintenance costs.

As an Australian homeowner, you should check with your local council regarding their local laws and interpretations of the Fencing Act and also try to reach an amicable agreement with any neighboring owner, so you can enjoy the benefits of a secure boundary and peace of mind too.

Jamie Perkins has been working in landscaping for many years. With a green thumb and an eye for practicality, she enjoys blogging about the ins and outs of maintaining land in good order.

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