Is that a “Spite Fence”?

This common scenario plays out throughout all of Maine:  a homeowner sets out to complete a major renovation to improve a water view and over the course of the remodel, relations with a neighbor sour.  Maybe it was the construction crew that drove on the neighbor’s lawn without permission or maybe it is the expanded size of the newly renovated home that has generated the ill will.  Either way, the disgruntled neighbor has now built a tall boundary fence, which, coincidentally or not, obliterates that newly obtained view.  What can the homeowner do?

When neighborly discourse can’t resolve the issue, consider your legal rights.  Under Maine law, there is such a thing as a “spite fence” and a court can order it removed or reduced in size, and award appropriate damages.  The “Spite Fence” statute provides that,

“[a]ny fence or other structure in the nature of a fence, unnecessarily exceeding 6 feet in height, maliciously kept and maintained for the purpose of annoying the owners or occupants of adjoining property, shall be deemed a private nuisance.”

17 M.R.S. § 2801.

Prevailing on a spite fence claim is heavily fact specific, and requires a high degree of proof.  In general, you must show that the fence or other structure (such as tree plantings) are over six feet tall, which height is unnecessary, and that the primary motive for installing the fence is to annoy.

For example, a spite fence claim was successful when a homeowner proved that a neighbor installed an eight-foot tall boundary fence with solid walls facing the homeowner’s property just two weeks after the homeowners refused to sell their property to the neighbors.  The court in that case found that the neighbors built the fence in retaliation and with the intent of obstructing water views and devaluing the property, and ordered that the fence be removed, that no replacement fence over six feet ever be installed, and awarded the homeowner damages.

Are you in a similar predicament?  Perkins Thompson regularly advises homeowners about their property rights.  If you would like to speak with the firm about your issue, give us a call at 207-774-2635.