A spite fence is an unsightly fence erected with the sole purpose of irritating a neighboring property owner. Generally, in most residential areas of the U.S., constructed fences can be six feet in the backyard and four feet in the front yard. These are restricted by state and local laws and regulations. A fence constructed above a prescribed height or having a certain appearance may be illegal under local fence height and appearance regulations or state laws that specifically bar spite fences. However, even if it does not violate regulation or laws, the fence may still be illegal if it was built with malicious intent.
Statutes have been enacted in many jurisdictions prohibiting the erection and maintenance of spite fences or structures. In the case of Dalton v. Bua[i], it was observed that a spite fence is one that is constructed maliciously. Such a fence is erected with intent to injure[ii] or annoy[iii] adjoining landowners. The aspect that makes a spite fence a nuisance under a spite fence statute is not merely that it blocks the passage of light and view, but that it does so “unnecessarily” for the malicious purpose of “annoyance.”[iv]
In Rapuano v. Ames[v], the plaintiff neighbors brought an action asking damages as well as an injunction and a decree requiring defendant fence owners to remove a fence alleged to have been erected on the fence owners’ land maliciously and with intent to annoy and injure the neighbors in the use and disposition of their land which adjoined that of fence owners.
The court found that the portion of the fence under consideration had been erected three feet east of the common boundary line of the parties on the fence owners’ own land. The smooth or finished part faced the neighbor’ property and had been painted an unobtrusive brown color. The court therefore found that on such facts, it was obvious that a deliberate malicious intention to injure the neighbors’ enjoyment of their property was not the primary motive behind the erection of the fence. Moreover, there was no evidence of any spite or hard feelings between the parties that pointed toward such motivation. Malice and intent to injure had to have been found, if at all, from the very nature of the structure and its physical relationship to the neighbors’ enjoyment of their property. The court found such malice and intent to injure on the fact that the fence owners added three additional feet to the fence directly beside the neighbors’ home and, as a result, the neighbors were found entitled to an injunction to the extent of not permitting the fence to rise more than six fee four inches about the ground level at the base of the fence.
[i] 47 Conn. Supp. 645, 822 A.2d 392 (Super. Ct. 2003)
[ii] Hasselbring v. Koepke, 263 Mich. 466, 248 N.W. 869, 93 A.L.R. 1170 (1933)
[iii] Taliaferro v. Salyer, 162 Cal. App. 2d 685, 328 P.2d 799 (1st Dist. 1958)
[iv] Dowdell v. Bloomquist, 847 A.2d 827 (R.I. 2004)
[v] 21 Conn. Supp. 110 (Conn. Super. Ct. 1958)