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Spite fences

Posted by Rona Fischman June 13, 2012 02:04 PM

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Today, Attorney Richard D. Vetstein gives us a legal definition and an example in the news to ponder.

The old Robert Frost saying goes “Good fences make for good neighbors.” But a neighbor can quickly turn from good to bad when a they maliciously construct a “spite fence” on the property line. And that includes Sarah Palin who installed this 14 feet monstrous fence at her Wasilla, Alaska home.

What is an illegal spite fence?
Spite fences are those which neighbors put up extremely close to the other neighbor’s property for the purpose of annoying or inconveniencing the neighbor, and not for any legitimate other reason. In certain circumstances in Massachusetts, courts can rule that certain types of fences are illegal “spite fences,” and order that they be taken down, decreased in height or award damages to the complaining neighbor.
Under the Massachusetts Spite Fence Law (Gen. Laws ch. 49, § 21, first passed in 1887) a fence is an illegal “spite fence” if:
A fence or other structure in the nature of a fence which unnecessarily exceeds six feet in height and is maliciously erected or maintained for the purpose of annoying the owners or occupants of adjoining property….

Whether a fence is an illegal spite fence depends on the circumstances. Usually spite fences are erected where neighbors have been fighting or in a legal dispute of some kind, and the fence is installed as a form of revenge or pay-back. In the vast majority of towns and cities, fences are allowed to be up to 6 feet tall. If the fence in question is over 6 feet tall, and there is evidence that it was installed maliciously, it may be an illegal spite fence.

Is it a spite fence or isn't it? If you were deciding, what would you say?

Have you had disputes that involved spite fences? Are there other spiteful structures that you have seen when neighborly relations get less neighborly?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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