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There is a very simple answer to this question. If you are certain that something is on your property, you can do pretty much anything you want with it. You can remove it, paint it, or even flip it upside down if you want. But whether you can do something and whether you should do something are very different questions.

Get the Facts First

Before you do anything, get the facts. In most cases, if your neighbor’s fence is on your property, it is because they think it is on their property. They may be right.

Check with town records and look at maps of the property lines. You may be incorrect about where your property line is.

Alternatively, there may be conflicting records. This could be because property lines were adjusted at some point and some records were never updated. Either you or your neighbor could be working with old property records and not even realize it.

Once you have the most accurate property records available, hire a licensed surveyor to verify the property lines. This will allow you to determine precisely whether a neighbor’s fence is on your property.

Discuss With Your Neighbor Before Taking Action

While you can legally destroy any portion of the fence on your property, that is unlikely to be good for future relations. Once that fence is gone, you will still live next to your neighbor, and they probably won’t like you. 

The best step to take is to present them with the facts and negotiate a solution that doesn’t involve you giving up rights to your property.

If things go well, your neighbor may agree to move the fence so that it is only on their property. Note, however, that if they agree to do this, it will probably take weeks (or even months) for them to get a contractor to complete the work. Assuming they are acting in good faith, you should be patient.

If that isn’t an option, they may agree to rent the portion of your property the fence is on. This is less optimal because such an agreement wouldn’t be likely to last if either of you moved.

Consider Including a Lawyer in Negotiations

One question you will need to consider is whether to include a lawyer in discussions with your neighbor. While having a lawyer present can prevent you from accidentally agreeing to something that would harm you, it can also make the conversation more confrontational.

At a minimum, you should probably consult with a lawyer before discussing anything with your neighbor. The better you understand the legal repercussions in advance, the easier it will be to negotiate fair results.

Be Careful When Removing a Fence

If you can’t come to a good resolution with your neighbor, you can remove the fence to protect your property rights. As noted, you have the right to remove portions of the fence on your property. However, you don’t have the right to remove any portions that are on your neighbor’s property.

This means precision may be needed. Make sure that any contractor understands exactly what they can and can’t remove. Any mistakes could be disastrous, forcing you to pay to rebuild portions of the fence.

Act Quickly to Protect Your Rights

When someone builds a fence on your property, it is a threat to your rights as a property owner. You likely want to protect your rights but also keep good relations with your neighbor. A real estate litigation attorney at Levy Goldenberg LLP in Manhattan can help you find a good solution to this problem.