Fence law could change relationships

SALEM, Ohio – Ohio’s line fence law, with roots and reasons dating back more than 100 years, may be about to change.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, has been working with the Ohio Farm Bureau to update the existing law to better reflect 21st century line fence and neighbor issues.
The old west. Gibbs’ senior legislative aide Jason Warner said Ohio’s line fence law dates back to when Ohio was wild and a farmer’s livestock roamed free. At that time, a farmer’s neighbors had the responsibility to fence livestock off their property.
But in the ensuing years, and as Ohio developed, reasons to build fence changed, according to Peggy Kirk Hall, an Ohio State University Extension legal expert.
What was once a “fencing out” law became a “fencing in” law, and farmers who failed to build and maintain their fences found themselves paying for property damages and arguing with adjoining landowners over both parties’ responsibilities.
Changes. The existing law requires neighbors to share the cost of fence built on a property line, even if one neighbor has no livestock or use for the fence.
“There is a considerable amount of misunderstanding of the law, of who has to do what and pay for what,” Jason Warner said.
“This puts up the mechanics so we don’t end up having long, drawn-out fights between neighbors,” he said.
Farm Bureau’s Rocky Black called the updates a “standard and friendlier way to deal with fence issues.”
“It’s a way to apply objective criteria that agriculture agrees to and the courts have already tested,” he said, noting the key is figuring out who pays for the fence.
What’s new. Gibbs’ legislation, brought to the House in the fall, strengthens the old law to keep pace with a changing rural landscape.
For instance, adjoining property owners are still supposed to equally share maintenance costs of an existing fence. But in the case of new fences, built after the bill would become law, the property owner who wants the fence is responsible for all costs.
If the adjoining property owner doesn’t pay and he or his heirs happen to take advantage of that fence within 30 years – for instance, use the existing fence as a boundary for his own livestock – he would be forced to pay back the neighbor 50 percent of the fence cost.
Peggy Kirk Hall also explained in a fact sheet that if a farmer removes a fence and doesn’t replace it within a year of the law’s updates, as long as he or she files an affidavit with the county recorder, he can fall back on shared responsibility if the fence is replaced within 10 years.
If no affidavit was filed, and the landowner wants to replace the fence, he or she must bear the full cost.
Other parts. A number of other changes are proposed in the legislation, including a revision of the steps for hearing and appealing line fence disputes, which gives township trustees binding or non-binding arbitration power; allowing landowners limited access to the neighbor’s property when building or maintaining fence; and establishing standards for line fences that enclose livestock.
Status. No action was taken on the bill since it was introduced in late September and referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee.
The House session recessed for the holidays Dec. 12, and legislators return Jan. 9. Hearings on the bill are planned for January.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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