Good Fences Make Good Neighbours – Or Do They?

How to Resolve Disputes with the Line Fences Act

“Good fences make good neighbours.” From the poem “Mending Wall,” it is easily one of Robert Frost’s most often quoted lines, and if you’re at odds with the couple next door over an ugly (or absent) fence, it has likely crossed your mind.

If despite your very best efforts, a satisfactory solution for separating your properties remains out of reach, one of Ontario’s oldest pieces of legislation may be of service.

Fences Disputes

As described by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Line Fences Act provides an arbitration process for neighbouring landowners to resolve disputes concerning “situations where one owner wants to construct, repair or maintain a fence on a property boundary line, but is unable to reach agreement with the other owner on the type of fence to be erected, the sharing of the costs of the fence, or both of these issues.”

If you would like to pursue arbitration under the Line Fences Act, first check with your municipality to be sure that there are no by-laws already in place that can settle the dispute you are having. Some cities have used the Municipal Act, 2001 to create by-laws that specifically address the construction of fences and division of their associated costs.

If no such by-laws are in place, you may formally apply to the Clerk of your Municipality for an arbitration. Municipally-appointed fence viewers will visit your property and later hold a hearing. If they determine that the fence is to be repaired or newly constructed, they will make an award with a complete description of the fence, including the materials to be used, thereby also ensuring the fence complies with any municipal by-laws concerning its appearance.

Neighbours who are unhappy with the award and wish to appeal may do so within 15 days of receiving it. The fee increases annually with inflation, and as of January 1st, 2018, it is $322.

However, before pursuing an arbitration or appeal under the Line Fences Act – or quoting Robert Frost mid-argument with your neighbour—do take a moment to read the whole poem. For all it has do with building fences, it has much more to do with finding common ground, as at its heart are these, less often quoted lines: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, /That wants it down.”