Dividing fences and retaining walls – who’s responsible for what?

When it comes to dividing fences and retaining walls in shared property under strata schemes, here’s what property owners should know

It’s not always easy to get on with neighbours when you’re living on shared property. Most disagreements between neighbours tend to be around sharing of boundaries. So when it comes to matters such as dividing fences and retaining walls, there’s bound to be some differences of opinion and questions around who is responsible for their maintenance, repairs and costs incurred.

This article covers a key New South Wales legislation called the Dividing Fences Act and what it means for property owners in strata managed properties. While there are similar laws in other states, there are important differences. So, if you’re a property owner, you should consult with your strata manager or owners corporations to discuss your specific situation.

 

Who’s responsible for retaining walls?

If one neighbour fails to maintain a retaining wall, the structure can become potentially dangerous for themselves and for their neighbours. According to the Diving Fences Act, a retaining wall may not be the same as a dividing fence, even if it stands on the point that separates two properties. The same applies to any wall that forms part of a house, garage, or other building. So if the retaining walls are part of private property, the property owner is responsible for its maintenance. For walls that lie in common or shared property under a strata scheme, the responsibility lies with the owners corporation.

Who looks after shared boundaries in strata properties?

Take Jeff, as an example. Jeff lives in a townhouse situated within a strata scheme. The front and back fences of Jeff’s property also mark the perimeter of the property. As such, they are the responsibility of the owners corporation to maintain, but Jeff also has a fence separating his yard from his neighbour’s garden. As this fence does not form part of the perimeter of the property, it is the joint responsibility of Jeff and his neighbour to maintain this fence, and the cost of all modifications, maintenance and repairs should be split 50-50 between the two neighbours.

An exception to this would be where one neighbour wants to replace a shared fence but the other neighbour is quite happy with the existing one. If the existing fence is in good condition, the other neighbour is under no obligation to contribute towards its replacement. When such situations arise, often the neighbour who wants to replace the fence is obliged to pay for the new fence in its entirety.

Sometimes, the wall or fence may be located between a private property and common property. In such cases, there could be a 50-50 responsibility between the property owner and the owners corporation for its maintenance, repair and related costs. Generally, when a property shares a perimeter fence with another property, both properties must share the costs associated with the upkeep of the fence. If you have questions about your specific case, make sure to clarify with your strata manager.

How can neighbours resolve disputes?

Understanding your property’s boundaries, planning regulations and by-laws is crucial. You can take the help of your strata manager to arbitrate issues between your neighbour and yourself.

If you have a dispute with your neighbour over the cost of replacing a retaining wall or a dividing fence and cannot be resolved by mutual agreement, you can take the matter to court. The Diving Fences Act also allows for monies owed for the repairs or a replacement to be recovered in court. In NSW, the Tree (Disputes Between Neighbours) Act 2006 allows a neighbour whose fence (or other property) has been damaged by a falling branch or tree from your property to seek compensation from you in court to cover the cost of the damage. Make sure to have your property insured so it doesn’t get heavy on your pocket in times of crisis from natural calamities.

If you live in a strata managed building and are unsure of your responsibilities, you can go online and read the legislation applicable to your state, or have a chat with your strata manager. You can also write to us at picagroup@picagroup.com.au if you have additional questions.

This article first appeared on Homely.