Farmers who share a fence between their properties, called a line fence or partition fence, have responsibilities to keep the area free of vegetation that may affect field activities. Overgrown tree branches can affect crops and pose a hazard to agricultural equipment.
In addition, clearing a fence row keeps noxious weeds, brush, and other vegetation from spreading onto a neighbor’s property. Because of the importance of keeping fence rows free of vegetation, Ohio law requires owners on either side of a partition fence to clear brush and weeds in a strip four feet wide along the line of the fence.
The best way to clear the fence row is for two neighboring owners to establish a timeline to clear each side of the fence. However, a property owner does have rights if a neighbor neglects to clear his side of a partition fence.
To invoke these rights, a landowner will have to formally ask the adjacent landowner in writing to clear a fence row. Once a written request has been made the neighbor has 10 days to clear his side of the fence.
If the request is ignored, the landowner can ask the township trustees to arrange for the fence row to be cleared. The trustees will determine if the complaint is legitimate, and if so, they will enter into a contract with a third party to clear the fence row and certify the associated costs to the county auditor.
The county auditor will bill the non-compliant landowner for the work to clear the fence row, and add these costs to his property tax bill.
Landowners also have the right to trim vertically and remove overhanging obstructions, such as branches from trees, which grow above their side of the fence. Ohio courts recognize this privilege to remove obstructions, but not without limitations. Ohio courts do not permit landowners to cause harm to the other side of the property line.
A landowner should be careful not to damage the neighbor’s trees or trespass on the neighbor’s property when trimming overhanging branches. Landowners may be liable to a neighbor if they recklessly damage a neighbor’s tree when removing overhanging branches.
There are also legal implications to removing a line fence that is on the boundary between two different landowners. A 28-day notice needs to be given to an adjoining landowner for removal of a line fence.
The 28-day notice provides the adjoining landowner an opportunity to object to removal of the fence — an objection could raise a line fence dispute.
For this reason, it is best to talk to the neighbor first and make sure they agree with the removal.
If a 28-day notice is not given and an affidavit not filed for fence removal, the owner removing the fence or their successors will bear full responsibility for the cost of building and maintaining a new fence in the future as opposed to the shared costs and responsibilities now applicable to the line fence.
The adjoining landowner can also recoup damages if their property was damaged in the course of the fence removal. Debris from fence removal cannot be placed on the adjoining property without written consent, or the owner removing the fence may be responsible for costs of removing the debris.
As more fence rows are being removed in rural areas, farmers and property owners need to remember that there are legalities associated with these fences, particularly property line fences. Property owners along existing line fences also have legal responsibilities to keep the fence row clear.
This article was adapted from information provided by Chris Hogan, law fellow for Ohio State University Extension agriculture and law resources. More information may be found on line fence laws at the ag law library website: https://aglaw.osu.edu/our-library/line-fence-law.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.
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