COUNTY AG NEWS
Wisconsin’s Fence Law
Historically, disputes over fences probably have caused more ill will between neighbors than any other single issue. To reduce these conflicts, the legislature developed Chapter 90, Wisconsin Statutes, an entire chapter of the Statutes dealing with fences. While the amount of pasturing of livestock has declined, the statutory provisions of Chapter 90 are still in effect.
The central provision of the law, Wis. Stat. 90.03, provides that if either neighbor uses or occupies land for farming or grazing, each neighbor is responsible for erecting and maintaining half of the fence.
In recent years, more non-farm people have been purchasing land which they use for retirement or recreational purposes. They usually are not aware of their responsibilities under Wis. Stat. 90 and real estate agencies may be remiss in not doing a better job of explaining this to new owners of rural agricultural property. The rule of thumb for dividing responsibility between neigh-bors for a partition fence is that the property owner stands on their property facing the property boundary, the half of the fence on their right is their responsibility.
Neighbors should try to resolve fence disputes between themselves, using the law as a guide. If a dispute cannot be resolved the law provides that either neighbor may contact their town supervisors who are empowered as fence viewers to resolve fence disputes (but not boundary disputes). Town supervisors charge fees to each of the neighbors for resolving disputes.
Fence viewers observe the situation and decide if a fence is required or if an existing fence is adequate. If action is required the fence viewers divide the responsibility for the fence and assign a reasonable time for building or repairing the fence. Their decision is filed with the town clerk. Both neighbors must pay the fence viewers fees.
After the fence viewers’ decision, each neighbor knows their responsibilities concerning the fence. What if Neighbor B refuses to build or repair the fence as directed by the fence viewers? Neighbor A may then build or repair the fence and recover costs from Neighbor B:
A) Neighbor A contacts the town supervisors who appoint two or more fence viewers.
(B) Fence viewers give written notice to Neighbors A and B.
(C) Fence viewers view the fence.
(D) Fence viewers determine fencing costs and their own fees.
(E) Neighbor A may then demand payment from Neighbor B for the costs and fees.
(F) If Neighbor B does not pay within one month, there is a charge of 1 percent interest/month.
If Neighbor B does not make timely payment to Neighbor A, Neighbor A may obtain payment from the town treasury for the costs and fees Neighbor A incurred in doing Neighbor B’s portion. The town recovers the amount of costs and fees by placing a lien on Neighbor B’s land. If Neighbor B does not pay the town, this may be collected as a special charge on the property tax bill. [Sec. 90.11]
Adjoining rural property owners should try to resolve disputes in a neighborly way before contacting the town supervisors or resorting to litigation.