A fence around private property can serve many purposes, from creating a feeling of privacy to securing boundaries for animals. Fences can also infringe on the rights of neighbors to live in a safe and scenic environment. Because of this, the state of Massachusetts has implemented several laws and regulations defining the rights and permissions of individuals to build fences on their property.
Definition of Fence
While many types of barriers can be considered a fence, Massachusetts state legislature clearly defines what they consider to be 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 Foot Rule
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.
No Barbed Wire
One important restriction concerning fences in Massachusetts is the restriction on potentially dangerous material in the construction of the fence. This is designed to protect the residential public and includes restrictions on electric fences, chicken wire fencing (which is laced with small sharp points) and barbed wire coils around the top of the fence. Unlike the six foot rule, there are no exceptions to this rule.
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."
Sean Russell has been writing since 1999 and has contributed to several magazines, including "Spin" and "Art Nouveau." When not writing, Sean helps maintain community gardens in Silver Lake and Echo Park, California. Russell also worked extensively on the restoration and rejuvenation of public parks in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi after damage from 2004-2005 hurricanes.