My question involves personal property located in the State of: Virginia
We bought a house about 5 months ago. On one side border of the backyard, there are two fences immediately next to one another, a wooden privacy fence on the outside (my neighbor's side) and a chain link fence on the inside (our side). We were told by our realtor that the chain link fence was ours, which we didn't question since the neighbor had a privacy fence in his yard.
So the chain link fence was a mess, it was rusted and damaged in places, it had trunks from large shrubs/bushes growing between the two fences and also growing through the mesh of the chain link fence, completely entwined. Two of these trunks had grown up against the neighbor's privacy fence, bowing the wood. There was also a good amount of poison ivy growing between the two fences as well as through the chain link fence. We have two very small children and a dog so for safety and aesthetic reasons we decided to remove the chain link fence altogether.
In the meantime, a professional stump grinder we hired accidentally broke the mesh of one panel while grinding out a stump near the chain link fence. We told him not to worry about it since we had planned on removing it anyway.
A week later, my husband went out and bought the materials necessary and spent the better part of his Saturday removing the mesh, cutting down all the trunks and tearing out all the poison ivy. He left the posts and top rail since the posts were embedded in concrete and he wasn't quite sure how to remove them.
About 7 or 8 weeks later, my neighbor with the privacy fence came over and told me he was upset because we had removed his fence. He went on to say that BOTH the fences were his, his wife had cried all night because her father had erected the chain link fence 36 years ago and now it was gone, and also he relied on the chain link fence as a "safety fence" because parts of his privacy fence were warped and he has two chihuahuas that might escape into our yard without the chain link fence as a secondary barrier. I was a little taken aback because he had been in our backyard a couple of weeks prior talking with my husband for about 1/2 an hour, and he had not said a word about his fence being gone.
So I apologized and explained that we had believed the fence to be ours, that we never would have thought he would have two fences. He said he wants us to replace the chain link fence.
My question is this: is it reasonable for him to ask us to replace the fence considering he put up a 7 foot high privacy fence INSIDE this 4 foot high chain link fence, completely obscuring it from his view, use or maintenance? The fence clearly suffered from YEARS of neglect (even his privacy fence is obviously many years old) and was a safety hazard. We fully acknowledge that we removed the mesh from the fence. Had we thought for a second it was his fence, we would have asked him to make the repairs (though the fence was really irreparable). However, thinking it was ours and because of 1) the condition of the fence and 2) the fact that it was pushing up and bowing part of his privacy fence, we were trying to be good homeowners and good neighbors by removing it. We understand we made a mistake, but are we legally obligated to replace it or is there a reasonable set of circumstances that remove this obligation? If we are obligated, would putting up a better privacy fence of our own solve the problem?