First, we are in California.
Two weeks ago, a neighbor who just moved in came by "just to let us know" that she was having the fence between replaced (See diagram, she is "Neighbor N"). She told us the details (the workers are coming by tomorrow, the process will take two days: removal of the old fence the first day, replacement the second day, and maybe more cleanup on the third day if needed).
The key is that she said "I'll leave information in your mailbox, if you want to help pay." We've never even met her prior to this time, there was no discussion regarding estimates, or even if our household really wanted the work done. Since it sounded like she was footing the bill for this endevour that she already began without us, we didn't mind.
"Just in case" (I watch a bit too much court tv shows sometimes, but it looks like I wasn't too careful after all) I wrote myself an email that day after talking to her:
Yesterday, we received a letter from Neighbor N asking for 1/3 of the cost of the fence work.A few minutes ago, our new neighbor behind our house ([our address]) stopped by. The reason she came by was to let us know she was going to get the fence between our properties replaced over the next two days, with the third day for clean/"mop" up. She did not mention anything regarding sharing the costs other than the fact that she will leave some information in our mailbox "if we want to help."
Today is Sunday, June 3rd, 2007.
- she basically told us, the one time we interacted, that she was taking care of the cost, but now is demanding payment.
As I mention above, she explicitly said "if we (our household) want to help" regarding payment (emphasis mine). Now in her letter, she says
(sic, grammar error with period after budget where there should be a comma). It sounds like she's now trying to set herself in a good/proper legal position by sending this letter demanding payment."I hired [...] keeping the expense to [one-third the total paid] each... As we share the fence with you ([our last name]) and the ["Neighbor O"], it is the courtesy of each of us, as good neighbors to pay our fair share.... The fence is now completed and paid in full. If this expense will create a hardship on your budget. You may pay in installments at what you can afford each month."
- Even if we did decide to pay (to promote good will and to be neighborly) she divided the cost unevenly. (see diagram)
The logic that makes sense to me: 1/2 of the total bill ($X dollars) should be split between her ("Neighbor N") and "Neighbor O", and 1/2 of $X split between her and us. i.e. our share is, at most, is 1/4 the cost, NOT 1/3. With her fudged math, "Neighbor N" already managed to get "Neighbor O" to pay 1/3 of X dollars... (I wonder if they know they got gypped)
I have already read Civil Code 841, the fence law for California:
I also read a LectLaw article. Of interest to me are these points:841. Coterminous owners are mutually bound equally to maintain:
1. The boundaries and monuments between them;
2. The fences between them, unless one of them chooses to let his
land lie without fencing; in which case, if he afterwards incloses
it, he must refund to the other a just proportion of the value, at
that time, of any division fence made by the latter.
(emphasis mine)State boundary fence statutes and most local ordinances place joint
responsibility for maintenance on the owners of boundary fences, unless
the owners work out their own agreement.
Even when two neighbors own a boundary fence together, one owner
may want to be responsible for the fence's care. The neighbors may discuss
this arrangement, or it may simply happen without anything ever being said.
Especially if only one owner built the fences, she may really
consider it her fence and not want the neighbor bothering it.
Did we technically work out our own agreement that she pays for the cost (i.e. that she was doing the work at her expense)?
Any help/advice you have would be much appreciated. We're not trying to be bad or tightwad neighbors, but we also don't appreciate suddenly receiving a letter demanding money. For now, we're just going to ignore the letter, and I'll drop by to my local library to check out Nolo Press' "Neighbor Law" book.
Click here for a map illustrating the fence location.
P.S. Also, if I remember correctly, our across-the-street neighbors had fence work done for about half the total cost of the X dollars mentioned above, and that included at least one gate, while there were no gates included in the fence for our situation.
$X was supposedly the cheaper of two estimates, and the work was done by "[lastname]" and son (sic), (Independent Contractor)"... this just sounds like some guy did the work. I can't even imagine the amount of unfairness that could result if we're forced to pay in this situation. Another neighbor could hire his/her relatives/buddies to do some basic fence work at unreasonable rates, then they could pocket the exhorbitant costs paid by neighbors forced to split the cost. (In this situation, the [last name] mentioned above is not related to "Neighbor N" as far as I can tell).