Every town and community in Massachusetts has their own set of ordinances and bylaws that dictate what residences and businesses can and cannot do with fences and boundaries. As we discussed previously, we are going to take a closer look at each of the cities we service and review all of the State, County and local laws that fence owners need to be aware of and comply with.
The Importance of Fence Law
As a reminder, it is the responsibility of every fence owner, or potential owner, to take the time to understand what fence laws are applicable to their situation. If you’re building a fence, or have a fence that is in need of repair, there are state and local laws that apply to your situation. While we will be documenting all of the published ordinances for your area, we still recommend that once you review them, you seek further clarification and confirmation if you find one or more laws are going to impact your property. Furthermore, if you’re a member of an HOA or housing community, check with your organization for any bylaws which may further affect your fencing.
Massachusetts State Fence Law
In the State of Massachusetts, the State Constitution enumerates a series of fence laws and procedures in Chapter 49. Within the chapter are 21 sections regarding fencing. While we’re not going to reprint every section here, we’ll list and link to each section so you can refer to any that are relevant to your fencing situation.
Section 1 – Fence viewers; appointment; tenure
Section 2 – Definition of fences
Section 3 – Maintenance of partition fences
Section 5 – Remedy for repair of deficient fence
Section 6 – Disputes regarding repairs; arbitration
Section 11 – Maintenance of fences surrounding land laying common
Section 12 – Purchase of rights in fence
Section 14 – Boundary disputes
Section 17 – Water fences
Section 18 – Fence viewers; powers
Section 19 – Penalty for misfeasance
Section 20 – Fees
Section 21 – Fences deemed a private nuisance; right of action
Make sure you take a moment to review each section that applies to your property or issue.
Massachusetts State Constitution, Chapter 49: Fences, Fence Viewers, Pounds and Field Drivers: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleVII/Chapter49
Additionally, if your property, whether it’s a building or fence, serves as a boundary for a public way (such as a street or highway), there are additional fence laws which may apply to under Chapter 86, Boundaries of Highways and Other Public Places, and Encroachments Thereon.
Section 1 – Erection of monuments
Section 2 – Buildings or fences as boundaries
Section 3 – Encroachment on public ways
Section 4 – Removal of encroachments
Section 6 – Barbed wire fences
Massachusetts State Constitution, Chapter 86: Boundaries of Highways and Other Public Places, and Encroachments Thereon: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter86
The Definition of a Fence
In the state of Massachusetts, a fence is a barrier at least “four feet high, in good repair, constructed of rails, timber, boards, iron or stone.” This covers most fences, but Massachusetts has also designated less ordinary constructs to be fences: “brooks, rivers, ponds, creeks, ditches and hedges, or other things which the fence viewers consider equivalent thereto” are also considered to be legal fences. It is important to note that these barriers must be in good repair to be considered legal fences, and that a fence with substantial wear or breakage is not legal and can be considered a public nuisance.
Six Feet Restriction
While height restrictions are different in some districts, Massachusetts state regulation mandates that residential fences can be no higher than six feet in back yards and four feet in front yards. While this most directly applies to constructed fences, it also applies to natural fences such as trees, bushes or shrubbery in some districts. When planting a natural barrier, be sure to consult the local ordinances concerning height restrictions.
Massachusetts law allows for one-time exceptions, called variances, to the six foot rule in select cases. To receive an exception, fill out a request at the local City Hall including a detailed description of the circumstances of your need for an exception.
Shared fences (fences constructed between two owners’ properties) are considered to be the responsibility of both owners. This means “both owners are responsible for keeping the fence in good repair, and neither may remove it without the other’s permission.”
Essex County Fence Law
There are no applicable ordinances for Essex County that apply to fences in Danvers, MA.
Danvers MA Fence Law
Danvers, MA has a set of bylaws which includes some references to fences.
SECTION 16.1 Waterfront Village District (WVD): Structures have a minimum setback of 10 feet and maximum setback of 20 feet in the front, minimum of 5 feet on the sides.
SECTION 32.3 Hawthorne West: Structures have a minimum setback of 30 feet in the front, 20 feet on the sides.
HISTORIC DISTRICT BYLAWS: New Structures or Significant Changes to existing structures must be approved.
A fence is considered a “structure” if it is a wall greater than 4 feet in height.
CHAPTER XX of the Town Bylaws, Section 1, Swimming Pools: All permanently installed private swimming pools and all other pools capable of retaining over two-and-one-half feet of water shall be fully enclosed by a suitable fence or an equivalent enclosure, or means of protection from access to the pool, not less than five feet in height and containing a self-latching gate to ensure that small children will be barred from the swimming pool area.
The Building inspector shall be responsible for enforcing the terms and conditions of this by-law and shall follow the procedures set forth in the State Building Code up to, but not including, the appeal procedure.
As a reminder, be sure to check with your local housing association, if you have one, to ensure that there are no additional bylaws which may impact your fence or fence installation.
If you own a fence that needs repair, or if you’re considering the construction of a new fence or something that requires a fence, like a pool, make sure that you’ve reviewed the applicable laws and regulations. For a professional assessment of your fencing requirements, please contact the fence pro’s at Malone Fence Company. We can offer fence options and recommendations, as well as assist with your understanding of applicable fence laws and ordinances. Contact us today!
Image courtesy of AtHandGuides.com, Flickr.