Overstepping The Boundary?

29 September 2021

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With our main offices in the Wellington CBD, we don’t get a whole lot of work dealing with farm animals. While there was the time it was unclear whether Doug the pet sheep would be removed from a lifestyle block prior to settlement day, our latest dispute is possibly the closest we’ve come to branching out into rural law.

Our client and their neighbours each own small blocks of rural land. Many years ago, the neighbour built a beautiful 8-wire boundary fence. The problem is, our clients found a survey peg which shows the fence is not exactly on the boundary. It encroaches into our client’s land by a few metres for the entire length of the fence, meaning the neighbour’s cows were happily grazing on our clients’ land.

So, what to do? Under the Fencing Act 1978, our client was quite entitled to require that any boundary fence be along the boundary line. The client, with our help, sent the neighbour a Fencing Act Notice informing them that they would be building a new fence along the boundary line, and that the neighbour would be expected to contribute a half share of the costs.

The neighbours were not too pleased about this, understandably, as they would be losing some land they’ve been using, and paying for a new fence when they thought the one they had was perfectly fine.

Unless a fencing covenant was registered on our client’s title saying that the neighbours didn’t have to pay for any boundary fence, legally, the neighbours don’t have a leg to stand on. All they can do is argue about the type of fence and how the costs are split.

In the meantime, the bovine invaders are still on our clients’ land. Technically, these girls are trespassing, but without a fence in place on the boundary, you actually can’t claim any compensation for any damage they do (e.g. stealing your grass). A bit of further reading of the Impounding Act 1955 found that we could possibly round up any that stray onto our clients’ land and deliver them to the local pound, but this seemed a little over the top, not to mention logistically challenging.

In the meantime, while the clients negotiate how many wires the fence needs to be, there’s a temporary electric fence keeping the cows at bay.

So, what’s the moral to this story for us city folk? Well, the exact same laws apply to you. Basically, if you, like the neighbours in this example, build a perfectly good fence that’s not on the boundary, at any time your neighbour can pop up and quite legally require you to share the cost of a new fence along the boundary line. That’s why protecting survey pegs, and staying on good terms with your neighbours can save you money in the long run! Also, keep your cows to yourself.

Sam L C P CONVEX JULY22 7023

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