Despite claiming ownership, Northwest homeowners dodge responsibility for fixing damaged fences

Despite claiming ownership, Northwest homeowners dodge responsibility for fixing damaged fences

The FINANCIAL -- ​​​​​Do you know who owns the fence separating your property from your neighbor's? While many Northwest residents believe they do, a new poll from PEMCO Insurance shows homeowners would rather dodge the responsibility of repairing any damage to that fence in the event of storms or accidents.

The latest PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll reveals that half of Washington and Oregon homeowners (50 percent) think they own the longest fence dividing their land from their neighbor's, and about half (49 percent) also agree that they are legally responsible for maintaining that fence. On the other hand, fewer – about one-third (32 percent) – think maintaining that fence is a shared duty.

"Figuring out who owns and maintains the fence separating two properties can be tricky and differs case by case," said PEMCO spokesperson Derek Wing. "However, joint ownership may occur if the fence is built on the boundary line or if the current neighbors have come to a mutual agreement."

But should a falling tree from a neighbor's yard damage the fence separating the two properties, the poll finds very few respondents – just 18 percent – are prepared to accept responsibility for repairing the damage. Instead, significantly more (50 percent of homeowners) wrongly believe their neighbor's insurance policy is liable for the damage.

"It looks like we are fair-weather fence owners in the Northwest, and there's a significant opportunity to educate homeowners on their responsibilities. Like it or not, you bear the responsibilities for all repairs to your property – even if it's your neighbor's tree that falls and causes the damage. There are always exceptions, but that's the general rule," Wing added.

PEMCO's policies require homeowners maintain the health of the trees on their property. If the trees are knowingly neglected and they cause damage to neighboring properties, some of the burden for repairs could be shared between homeowners. 

Though toppling trees can cause significant damage, PEMCO claims data finds that other adverse events can give homeowners bigger headaches. For instance, data from 2015 shows that homeowners filed the most property claims for water damage – compared to other events like fire, theft and weather – representing a third (34 percent) of the dollar value of PEMCO-insured property losses in 2015. Overall, PEMCO spent three times more on water damage claims than claims related to weather events last year.