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My neighbour's dog is about to knock down our fence: Can we make them pay for the damage?

In lockdown, our neighbours took ownership of a very lively dog. 

When I’m playing out in the garden with my toddler, it becomes over-excited and starts jumping up the fence with force.

The fence is fairly old, and came with the property when we bought it nearly a decade ago. It’s held up by wooden posts rather than concrete. 

I’m pretty certain the whole thing will go soon given the force and consistency in which the dog jumps at it.

Breaking point: The neighbour's dog becomes over-excited and starts jumping up the fence with force - and our reader fears it will soon collapse

Breaking point: The neighbour’s dog becomes over-excited and starts jumping up the fence with force – and our reader fears it will soon collapse

The fence is on the right-hand side. I’ve checked the details, and know that means it is our responsibility. 

However, I’m pretty certain the fence would be fine for another few years, if it wasn’t for the dog. If it comes down soon, can I argue that the neighbours need to pay for it, or at the very least, insist they foot half the bill? Via email.

Ed Magnus of This is Money replies: You are not the first person to come to us with a garden fence dilemma, and you almost certainly won’t be the last.

After all, if an Englishman’s home is to be his castle, then a fence must be his first line of defence.

Replacing a fence can be an expensive endeavour and, like so many things, the cost has soared amidst rampant inflation.

The cost of the average fencing job has risen by 26 per cent year-on-year, according to the tradesman directory, Checkatrade.

Although you don’t mention the height and length of our your fence, you seem convinced that the whole thing will need replacing.   

Divisions: Boundary fence repairs are a bone of contention between many a neighbour

Divisions: Boundary fence repairs are a bone of contention between many a neighbour

The average cost of a fencing panel is £45 according to directory Checkatrade, although this can range from £30 to £70 depending on the type of panel used.

Each fence post will typically set you back £25.50, although this can also range between £15 and £35 per post.

Say our reader needed six panels and seven posts, that would cost £429. 

But, unless he is particularly handy, he will also need pay for someone to install the fence.  

How to check if a fence is your responsibility

Check any copies of the title deeds or obtain an official copy of the title plan from the Land Registry.

These may reveal the extent of any boundary lines and also covenants setting out who is responsible for the upkeep of a boundary fence.

If there are T marks on the boundary line, this can show who is liable for the upkeep – if there is a T mark on both side of the boundary line, this indicates a party boundary with upkeep being a joint responsibility.

If we work on the basis of it being a 36-foot long fence, then installation would typically cost £1,780, according to Checkatrade.

Altogether our reader could therefore be facing a bill of more than £2,200 for labour and materials. 

There are other added costs to consider too, as disposing of the old fence and cutting back trees and bushes may also be required.

Our reader says he has checked the paperwork and already knows that the stretch of fence in question is his responsibility.

If the neighbour’s dog is indeed causing damage to the fence then it seems only fair and reasonable for them to contribute towards any repair or replacement.

However, not everyone likes being fair and reasonable – particularly when money is at stake.

To help advise our reader, we spoke to Chun Wong, partner at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, and Gary Rycroft, a member of the Law Society’s council membership committee and a consumer law expert.

What should our reader do first? 

Chun Wong replies: If you are sure that the fence is owned by you and therefore your responsibility to maintain, then any damage by the neighbour’s dog may give rise to a claim for damage to your property.

However, before it gets to that point, I would suggest trying to speak to your neighbour to put them on notice and see if they will take steps to limit or stop the continued damage.

Remember that you have to live next to them day in and day out and if you fall out over a fence, it could ruin your neighbourly relations.

Also, in the long term, if there are outstanding disputes with your neighbour, you may need to disclose this as part of the questions asked by potential buyers and so this could have an adverse effect on a future sale.

Should their neighbour foot the bill?   

Love thy neighbour: Just don't let their dog destroy your garden fence

Love thy neighbour: Just don’t let their dog destroy your garden fence

Gary Rycroft replies: The ownership and responsibility for the repair of the fence is a ‘red herring’ in this case.

If it can be proved that the damage to the fence has been caused by the dog, and also proved that the state and condition of the fence was satisfactory before the dog jumped up at it ‘with force,’ the owner of the dog should pick up the cost of repair. 

The owner of the fence is not responsible for the cost of this repair. 

What if neighbourly dialogue fails?

Chun Wong replies: The Boundary Disputes Mediation Service has been set up by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Property Litigation Association to help neighbours resolve disputes about boundary lines and related issues.

It provides a quicker, cheaper and more informal approach than litigation, while helping neighbours to deal with issues that are at the heart of their dispute in a positive and proactive way.

If legal action really is unavoidable you will need to provide evidence of how the damage was caused by the neighbour’s dog and the costs of the repair that was caused by the damage.

It may be that not all the costs can be recovered if the fence is already very old and would have needed replacement at some point.

Gary Rycroft replies: As with any legal case, evidence will be key, so photos or video footage of the fence before the dog was on the scene would be useful. 

Likewise, evidence of how the dog ‘interacts’ with the fence would support an argument that the damage is an outcome of the dog – rather than wear and tear or failure by the reader to maintain it.

The usual rule is that a dog owner is liable in law for the action of their dog if the dog injures a person or damages property. 

So, unless a valid defence can offered by the owner here and evidence is available, it would seem the dog owner will have to pay for the fence.

This would be a civil claim between the reader and dog owner. To start, I would recommend the reader sends a ‘letter of claim’ to the neighbour to explain what has happened, produce the evidence and ask for the desired remedy.

If the owner of the dog has pet insurance this potential liability may be covered. 

However, no one pet insurance policy is the same as another, so this potential route to funding the cost of the claim may not be available to the dog owner.

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