“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know
why it was put up.” – Robert Frost
Property boundary disputes are unfortunately a common occurrence for landowners in Iowa, and many choose to build fences to separate the properties and alleviate these boundary issues. Having a fence in place provides a number of benefits, including: privacy, safety, discouraging trespassers, and blocking the view to other properties. Under Iowa law, there is no common law duty to fence your property—instead, Iowa Code § 359A.1A imposes a conditional statutory duty, stating:
Respective owners of adjoining tracts of land shall upon written request of either owner be compelled to erect and maintain partition fences, or contribute thereto, and keep the same in good repair throughout the year.
Consequently, if one landowner sends a written request to an adjoining landowner, asking that a partition fence be erected or maintained, that adjoining landowner must erect, maintain, or contribute to the cost of that fence. It is irrelevant whether either party owns livestock.
A partition fence may be built upon the property line between adjacent landowners, so that the fence may lie partly on one side and partly on the other side. The same partition fence provisions apply to a fence that stands wholly on one side of the property line.
The cost of a fence must be shared equally by the property owners. In determining the apportionment of fence responsibilities under the statute, many landowners apply the “right hand rule,” where two adjoining property owners, facing each other at the center of the fence along their shared property boundary, each agree to build the right half from the center of the property to the end of the property line. This is typical in practice, but not required, as equal cost does not always equal fence length due to difference in terrain and materials needed for the fence. A lawful fence may be built with rails, boards, barbed wires, steel wires, or any other kind of fence which fence viewers consider to be equivalent to a lawful fence. See Iowa Code § 359A.18.
Despite the cost, it is generally true that good fences make good neighbors.