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Tennessee Property Line and Fence Laws

McCarter | East PLLC Feb. 7, 2024

House inside wooden fence Property lines are a crucial aspect of owning property — a wild concept, right? They determine where your property starts and ends, and they have implications for various aspects of property ownership and use. For instance, knowing where your property lines lie can help you avoid encroaching on neighboring properties and steer clear of potential legal disputes.  

In many cases, property lines may seem like an abstract concept, but their impact is very real. If you're unaware of your property boundaries, you could inadvertently create issues with neighbors or even local authorities. At McCarter | East PLLC, we believe in arming you with the knowledge you need to understand your property lines clearly. 

Tennessee Property Line Laws 

In Tennessee, property line laws are regulated by state statutes and local ordinances. These laws define the rights and responsibilities of property owners with respect to their property boundaries. It's essential to familiarize yourself with these laws to ensure you're in compliance and to safeguard your property rights. 

Here are some of the key laws property owners should be aware of: 

  • Adverse Possession: In Tennessee, if someone occupies an otherwise neglected piece of land for a certain period, typically 7 years with color of title and 20 years without it, they can claim legal ownership under adverse possession laws. 

  • Trespassing: Property owners have the right to prevent others from trespassing. Clear demarcation of property lines can help owners protect against unauthorized access or use of their land. 

  • Easements: An easement allows one party to use another's property for a specific purpose, such as a driveway or utility line. Easement rights are typically established by a property deed or as a matter of law. 

  • Encroachments: Structures that extend across property lines without permission are considered encroachments, and the violated party has the right to seek their removal. 

We understand that delving into legal texts can be daunting. Sometimes, the language used in these statutes and ordinances isn't easy to understand. But don't worry - we're here to break it down for you. We'll help you comprehend these laws and what they mean for your property rights. 

Fence Laws in Tennessee

Fences can be a significant part of property ownership. They provide privacy, security, and define property boundaries. However, building and maintaining fences in Tennessee come with specific regulations and requirements. The laws can vary depending on your property's location and zoning regulations. Understanding these laws is essential to avoid potential legal disputes and ensure compliance with local ordinances. 

Whether you're planning to build a new fence or maintain an existing one, there are several factors you need to consider. These can range from obtaining the necessary permits to adhering to height and setback requirements. And of course, you need to make sure your fence isn't encroaching on neighboring properties. 

Partition Fence 

A fence dividing two properties is known as a "partition fence." Tennessee law states that both property owners share the responsibility for partition fences, even if only one neighbor requires it. 

The costs for building and maintaining this fence are split equally between the landowners. This means you might have to cover expenses for a fence you didn't necessarily want or need. 

However, there's an exception. If one side of the fence borders agricultural land and the other side borders non-agricultural land, the non-agricultural landowner can submit a written statement to disclaim any responsibility for the fence. 

Additional Fence Laws 

Here are some of Tennessee's additional fence laws: 

  • Local Building Codes: Adherence to local building codes is critical when constructing a fence. These codes dictate the height, material, and setback requirements for fences. 

  • Permit Requirements: In many areas, a permit may be necessary before building a fence. Property owners should check with local authorities to determine if this is the case for their property. 

  • Spite Fences: Tennessee law prohibits the erection of 'spite fences' – structures built maliciously to annoy a neighbor, typically by obstructing views or access, and deemed to have no reasonable use to the builder. 

  • Livestock Fencing: For rural properties, adequate fencing is required to contain livestock and prevent them from roaming freely, which could lead to potential legal issues with neighbors. 

  • Trees and Shrubs as Fences: Trees and shrubs that are used as natural fences also have regulations, especially if they cross property lines or cause damage to neighboring property. 

  • Fence Damage: Property owners can be liable for intentional or negligent damage to a neighbor's fence, and disputes can be taken to a civil court if necessary. 

Disagreements over fences are common. To save landowners time and money on litigation, Tennessee provides an out-of-court dispute resolution procedure. If neighbors can't agree on the amount to be paid for building or repairing a partition fence, either party can request intervention from a judge of the court of General Sessions. The judge will then order three unbiased "freeholders" to examine the fence and decide the amount to be paid to the owner building or repairing it. 

Always remember that any actions you take should be based on a comprehensive understanding of Tennessee fence laws to safeguard your property rights and maintain good neighborly relations. At McCarter | East PLLC, we are here to guide you through the complexities of these laws, ensuring your actions are within your rights and in line with local regulations. 

What to Do if a Neighbor's Tree Is on Your Property 

Encroachment by a neighbor's tree onto your property can be a source of concern for many Tennessee property owners. In such cases, Tennessee law has certain prescriptions that govern what you can and cannot do. The owner has the legal right to trim branches or roots that cross into their property line.

However, this right is limited to the boundary line, and one must not damage the overall health of the neighbor's tree. Be cautious not to trespass onto the neighboring property to trim the tree or place debris, and always trim only up to the property line. 

It is generally recommended to communicate with your neighbor first before proceeding with any trimming or removal of encroaching vegetation. If the tree is potentially hazardous or dead and poses a risk to your property, a property owner can request the neighbor to take care of it. If the neighbor fails to address the hazardous tree, they may be liable for any damage caused. 

In the event of damage from a neighbor's tree, such as fallen branches, Tennessee law follows the "Acts of God" principle. If the tree was healthy and fell due to natural events, like a storm, the owner of the property where the tree lands is typically responsible for the cleanup. But if the tree was diseased or not properly maintained, the tree owner might be liable for damages. 

Resolving Disputes

If a resolution cannot be reached between neighbors, legal action may be a necessary step. Seeking guidance from an attorney experienced in Tennessee property laws, like McCarter | East PLLC, can help you understand your rights and the best course of action to resolve these types of disputes. 

Disputes over property lines and fences can crop up between neighbors, property owners, or homeowners' associations. These disputes can be complex and emotionally draining. But that's where our experienced attorneys come in. We can help you navigate these disputes, whether it's through negotiation, mediation, or litigation. Our primary goal is to protect your rights and find a resolution that's fair and favorable to you. 

Get Help for Your Property Line and Fence Law Concerns

Don't let legal confusion get the best of you. Give us a call today at [phone number] or visit our website to schedule an appointment. At McCarter | East PLLC, we're committed to providing you with the highest level of legal service. We're just a few blocks away from the courthouse in Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. Let's work together to ensure your property rights are protected.