What is a Good Neighbor Fence?

The term “good neighbor fence” means several different things regarding fences and laws regulating fences: 1) Local zoning rules often require that the finished side of a fence face outward toward your neighbor’s property; 2) shadow box fences are also known as “good neighbor” fences since they present a finished side on both sides; and 3) the laws pertaining to fences built directly on property lines where responsibilities for cost and maintenance are shared by both property owners.

Which Side of Fence Should Face Your Neighbor?

Deciding which side of a fence should face your neighbor is a matter of etiquette and can be governed by local zoning or HOA rules.

Fence Etiquette

Proper fence etiquette dictates that the finished side of the fence, commonly referred to as the “good” side, should face your neighbors. This demonstrates a sense of courtesy and thoughtfulness, as it enhances their property’s visual appeal and the neighborhood’s overall aesthetic. Communicating clearly with your neighbors about your intentions to build a fence and the design you plan to use can help foster a positive relationship and avoid potential disputes. By adhering to this etiquette, you exhibit good manners and maintain good relations with your neighbors. 

Zoning Rules and the “Good Side”

The zoning rules regarding who gets the “good side” of the fence are governed at the local level and vary widely based on your city or county.

For instance the City of Columbus, Ohio states: “The city does not regulate which sides of fences are oriented inward or outward.”

In Tampa, Florida the opposite is true: “Walls or fences made from any permitted building material must be constructed so that the exposed framing of each section of fence faces the interior yard.”

You must check with your local municipality or search for their zoning code online.  Also, if you are in an HOA (Homeowners Association) you may need to be aware of additional rules.

Shadow Box Fence

A shadow box fence is a type of fence that provides both privacy and an aesthetically pleasing appearance. This style of fence is made by alternating overlapping vertical boards on either side of the fence. This overlapping technique creates a gap between the boards that allows light to pass through while still maintaining privacy. The name “shadow box” comes from the way the fence casts a shadow that alternates from one side to the other, giving it a unique and stylish look.

Shadow box fences are popular in residential areas because they provide privacy without completely blocking out natural light. They are also a great option for areas with high winds because the overlapping boards create a strong and durable fence. The fence is typically made from cedar or redwood, which are both naturally resistant to rot and decay. With regular maintenance, a shadow box fence can last for many years while adding value and curb appeal to a property.

shadow box fence
A newly installed shadow box fence, aka the “good neighbor fence”.

Good Neighbor Fence Laws

Many states  have laws which regulate building fences directly on the property line.  Look for laws regulating “line fences” or “boundary fences”.  California actually has a law called the “Good Neighbor Fence Law”.  The main issues addressed by these laws are if you build a fence on a property line and who has to pay to build and maintain the fence.

Notifying Neighbors Before Building a Fence

Are you required by law or any other regulation to notify your neighbor if you want to build a fence on the property line? Generally, this isn’t necessary, but some places are changing that. California’s Good Neighbor Fence Law, for instance, requires written notice 30 days in advance that outlines the building plans, maintenance costs, timeline, and design. Even without the law, it’s always best to talk to your neighbor before starting the project.

Can Your Neighbor Build a Fence on the Property Line?

Legally, the answer is usually yes; your neighbor can build a fence on the property line and even ask you to cover half the cost. However, this could be impacted by the notice laws in your area. If your jurisdiction requires advance notification for such a project, then the neighbor is prohibited from building without it.

The bigger issue may be the neighbor relations. It’s rare to need a lawsuit; try talking to your neighbor first. Both parties are responsible for keeping a boundary fence in good repair, so it’s wise to agree on how to handle maintenance and repairs before they become an issue. 

Who is Responsible for Fence Building or Fence Repair Expenses Between Neighbors?

If you’re the one who wants to build a fence along a property line, you don’t have to ask your neighbor to pay for it. However, paying for the construction won’t give you any special advantages over your neighbor’s wishes.

If your neighbor decides to take the initiative and build a fence, you’ll likely have to contribute to the costs. Local fence laws assume that both homeowners benefit from the fence, so it’s only fair that they both help with the expenses. For example, Washington State law says that if one neighbor has already erected a fence, the other must pay for half of its value for it to serve as a partition fence between them.

State-level fence laws, which were originally made to protect grazing animals, are quite old and don’t go into detail about how the costs should be shared. Generally, though, it’s expected that both landowners will split the costs.


So a “good neighbor fence” can mean a specific style of fence and also refer to the etiquette and laws regarding fences. You can improve your property value and privacy, and also strengthening the bond between you and your neighbors. 

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