By Mike Surbrugg

NEOSHO, Mo. — Good fences may make good neighbors, but resolving questions about fence location and other issues can create some thorny problems.

David Whitson, University of Missouri Extension agriculture business specialist at Neosho, and Joe Koenen, who does the same work at Unionville, addressed some boundary fence issues recently.

Without agreement between the impacted property owners, disputes can end up in court.

Newton County has a county fence law approved by voters and much of the rest of the state falls under the state fence laws.

As more people from cities move to small plots of land in rural areas, assuring property lines are accurate becomes complicated, Whitson said.

After a storm, some property owners wonder if they can go onto a neighbor’s property to remove tree limbs from the boundary fence. These two specialists say it is legal to do just the work to remove the obstruction. Common sense says tell the neighbor of your plans to be on his land to do the work, Koenen said.

Another issue comes from flowing water. Sometimes that water flows under or through fences. Who maintains the water gap?

That all depends on the fence law used in that county and how each neighbor uses the land.

Others ask if a damaged boundary fence can be replaced with an electric fence. It is possible if both owners agree, but the fence is not within a legal description of a boundary fence.

Some other hints:

n County extension centers have details on what is a legal fence and who pays for what with different uses of land on each side of the fence. That is an issue when one farm is divided and sold in small lots as housing sites while the other property owner continues to farm or raise cattle.

n There is a good chance an old fence may not be exactly on the property line. If the old fence has been in its location for 10 or more consecutive years without any objections, adverse possession says leave it at this location. If one property owner objects, it could be a case for the courts to decide.

n One property owner may want to use his bulldozer to clear brush from 10 feet on each side of the boundary fence. Tradition in Missouri says 10 feet on both sides of the property line can be cleared to put in a new fence. But tradition is not the law. It becomes an issue when one neighbor does not want the brush or fence removed. That stops the work in counties under state fence law unless only one of owners has livestock.

In Newton County, both owners are responsible for the fence with or without livestock ownership.

The brush issue can be critical if one landowner wants it for wildlife habitat or for a place to pick native blackberries.

Adjoining property owners need to agree to any boundary fence work or change. The specialists say it is a good idea to put changes in writing.

Details: Whitson, (417) 455-9500.

Mike Surbrugg is The Joplin Globe’s farm editor.

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