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Understanding the Basics of Fence Law

You may not be aware of this, but most states have laws regarding fences. We have a fence law in Indiana and there have been court cases related to issues surrounding fences throughout the United States.

In March, Roger McEowen, professor of Agriculture Law and Taxation at Washburn University School of Law, visited Putnam County and spoke to participants of The Legal Side of Agriculture program about fence laws and other legal topics. This article will highlight some of the key points Roger shared with participants related to fence law.

In general, individuals who own agricultural land that is adjoining are required to build and maintain all partitional fences in equal shares, unless the parties agree otherwise. This comes to play when we discuss the “right-hand” rule. The “right-hand” rule means that the landowners face each other at the mid-point of their fence and agree to build and/or maintain the portion of the fence that is to their right. This still applies when one landowner has livestock and the other landowner has crops or no type of agriculture production. This is because the landowner who has crops or no agriculture production still benefits from the fence since the livestock are kept off of their property. At the same time, the landowners could agree not to have a fence or maintain an existing fence if neither party has a need for it.

What might happen if the two landowners can’t agree to build or maintain their portion of the fence? History reveals that the landowner who wants to build the fence, should build their part of the fence, wait 20 days, and then contact the township trustee. The township trustee can then notify the adjacent landowner that they need to finish their portion of the fence within 20 days. If they don’t finish their portion of the fence, then the township trustee can have the remaining portion of the fence built and send the bill to the adjacent landowner who is refusing to build it. If they don’t pay the bill, there has been cases where liens have been put against that individual until it is paid. Of course, the best thing to do is talk to your neighbor before installing the fence and come to an agreement.

There is no clear answer as to what the fence needs to be made out of. In Indiana, the law says it should be sufficiently tight to hold hogs, sheep, cattle, mules, and horses. That means you could use barbwire, high tinsel fence, board fence, etc. The main point is that the fence has to be strong enough to keep the animals inside. 

What might happen if your livestock get out of the fence? Indiana is considered a “fence-in” state. That means if the livestock escape through an owner’s faulty fence, then the owner is liable for any resulting damages. However, if the fence is in good shape, the livestock owner is generally not liable as long as they can show they were not negligent when attempting to fence in their livestock.

This article highlighted a few key points related to fence laws in Indiana. If you have questions or concerns about fence laws, Purdue Extension recommends you contact an attorney who can look the laws up and help you better understand them. Purdue Extension is not providing any legal services by sharing the information provided by Roger McEowen. During Roger’s presentation, he shared with participants that he maintains a blog that covers a variety of legal and tax information for agricultural producers. If you would like to know more about legal and tax issues as they relate to agriculture, please view Roger’s blog.  

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