Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Spite Fence Definition:

A fence built not to any beneficial purpose but, rather, to annoy a neighbor.

Related Terms: Fence, Nuisance, Abatement

In Brittingham, Justice Dufy held:

"A landowner has a right to build a fence along the boundary or division line of his property; he has an inherent right to fence, or not.

"This is a statement of classic law and, in my view, it establishes a prima facie right in (the Defendant) to erect the fence as he proposes to do.

"But the right is not absolute; this is to say that it is not unfettered or exercisable without reference to its impact upon others. On the contrary, a right to fence, like so many other species of property rights, is not exercised in a vacuum and the law is not indifferent to the impact which that exercise may have on others. Indeed, that has traditionally been a part of the weighing process which courts have undertaken; contractual limitations are but an illustration of this, and so is the spite fence doctrine.

"A spite fence or structure is defined as one which is of no beneficial use or pleasure to the owner, and which is erected for the purpose of annoying his neighbor....

"[I]it is now widely held that an adjoining landowner may sue for damages caused by, or may enjoin the erection or maintenance of, a spite fence or like structure erected for the sole purpose of injuring him in the lawful and beneficial use of his property."

In Austin, Doctor Bald had erected a ten-foot high fence "obstructing Plaintiff's view of the Pasquotank River and restricting the sunlight into Plaintiff's yard".

The plaintiff sued for nuisance further alleging that:

"Defendant erected the fence for no legitimate purpose or beneficial use and has, in fact, erected the fence for the purpose of spite.... Defendant built the fence to satisfy vengeful and malicious motive to injure the Plaintiff."

Justice Arrowood summarized the law of spite fences:

"A spite fence is one which is of no beneficial use to the owner and which is erected and maintained solely for the purpose of annoying a neighbor.

"A fence erected maliciously and with no other purpose than to shut out the light and air from a neighbor's window is a nuisance.

"It may be abated, subject to the same equitable principles which govern injunctive relief generally, and damages recovered if any have been sustained (but) Courts have denied equitable relief where the walls and fences complained of screened a defendant's premises from objectionable noises, odors, and unseemly conduct on the plaintiff's property."

REFERENCES:

  • Austin v. Bald, 658 SE 2d 1 (North Carolina Court of Appeals, 2008)
  • Brittingham v. Robertson, 280 A. 2d 741 (Delaware, 1971)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Fence Law: The Law of Fences
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Tree Law

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