Agricultural Boundary Fences in Ohio: What the Law Says

A new or replacement boundary fence can cost a reasonable sum of money, especially if you own a lot of land. Because of this, although a boundary fence is an important way to protect your property and livestock, it's important to understand who is liable for this construction before you carry out the work, or you could run into a costly legal dispute with your neighbor. Learn more about the law that applies to boundary fences for farms in Ohio and find out what you need to do before you erect a new one.

Definition of a preferred partition fence

Under Ohio law, unless you agree otherwise with your neighbor, you must enclose any field or enclosure that you use for livestock with a preferred partition fence. Legally, your fence must meet certain requirements, although you can choose from different construction materials. For example, you can have

  • a woven-wire fence, with one or two strands of barbed wire at least 48 inches from the ground, or
  • a nonelectric high-tensile fencing with at least seven strands that meets conservation practice standards.

You can also have an electric or live fence, as long as you agree to this with the owner of any neighboring land.

How the Ohio line fence law works

Ohio's state line fence law changed in 2008, and different rules now apply according to when you originally erected a fence.

For line fences built before September 30, 2008, equitable share rules apply. This means that property owners must both contribute to the cost of a boundary fence between their properties. Equitable share rules apportion responsibility for the fence based on certain fairness factors. For example, the topography of the land on each property may mean that one landowner has to pay more toward the cost of the fence than the other. Due to this, in theory, you could end up with an equitable share where one property owner is responsible for 90 percent of the fence, while the other must only care for the remaining 10 percent.

However, for any fence built after September 30, 2008, individual responsibility rules apply. This change to the law exists because the way in which neighboring people use their land is now often different. For example, one landowner may now still keep livestock, while a neighboring property may now only exist as a family home with limited need for a boundary fence. In this case, the landowner who keeps livestock must bear the cost of a new boundary fence, which is defined as a fence that is placed where one did not exist before. The law assigns individual responsibility to the person who wants (or needs) the new fence.

However, if you build a new fence with individual responsibility, you can still seek reimbursement for the cost in certain situations. If a neighboring landowner starts to use the fence (for example, he or she starts to keep livestock on a farm again), you may ask him or her to pay some of the cost of the fence. You can seek reimbursement for the cost of the fence up to thirty years after you erect it, but you should seek legal advice about when you can do this and the steps you will need to take.

Agreements and disputes

Landowners don't have to follow the rules of the new law. You can set up a written agreement with a neighbor that apportions responsibility for a fence in a different way. For example, if, prior to the law, you both paid 50 percent of the cost of the fence, you can agree to continue in this way. What's more, you can also both agree to erect a different type of fence, but you must agree any deviation from the law in writing, according to statute 971.04 of the law.

Of course, neighbors aren't always able to agree on these details, and fencing disputes can occur. With all disputes, landowners must file a complaint with the authorities to settle the issue. For example, you will need to file a complaint with the board of township trustees or the court of common pleas if you cannot determine equitable share with your neighbors on a fence built before September 30, 2008.

If you want to erect a new boundary fence around your farm in Ohio, you must make sure you work within the law. A local fencing construction company like Town & Country Fence can give you more advice.