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How to Protect Your Property from Your Neighbor’s Spite Fence

A beautiful view can add a great deal of value to a property. This is true of many Fairfield County homes: whether it is the long-distance view of the Long Island Sound from Greenfield Hill in Fairfield or the view of the Compo Beach across Hillspoint Road in Westport.  But what if you come home one day and see that the neighbor you do not get along with has installed a tall fence that now blocks your cherished view? If you can show that it is a “spite fence” under Connecticut law, you may be able to get it removed.

Structures that are erected for the purpose of annoying or injuring an adjacent landowner are called “spite fences.” Under the Connecticut General Statutes Sections 52-480 and 52-570, a court may issue an injunction and award damages against a landowner who erects a malicious structure where the intention of installing the structure was to annoy or injure an adjacent landowner. A Connecticut Superior Court recently held in Sylvain v. Paecht, that a plaintiff does not need to show actual malicious intent to prove that a structure is a spite fence. Rather, the court determines whether a structure is malicious by weighing the benefits that the fence provides the defendant against the disadvantages to the plaintiff.

In Sylvain v. Paecht, the plaintiffs and defendants owned adjacent rental homes located in West Haven, Connecticut. The plaintiffs used a portion of the premises as the sole and exclusive driveway for their rental property for many years. In May 2017, the defendants paved a portion of the driveway and created a curb over the driveway. In October 2017, the defendants installed a fence on a part of their land that the plaintiffs had previously used as a driveway. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants’ actions of installing a fence and creating a curb have substantially interfered with their use and enjoyment of the driveway and property. Further, the plaintiffs allege that the curb and fence were a hazard because it prevented emergency vehicles from reaching the property. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants took these actions out of spite. The defendants offered evidence that the fence served the purpose of preventing children and pets from leaving the defendants’ yard. Further, the defendants argued that any interference with the plaintiffs’ property would be minor.

The court determined that deciding whether a structure was erected maliciously did not involve an analysis of the defendant’s heart or motive, but rather an analysis of the benefits and disadvantages that the structure imposes on both parties. While the court found that there was some evidence that the fence was built in retaliation for a perceived offense, the court ultimately held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the fence was useless to the defendants or that it substantially interfered with the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their property.  While the plaintiffs in this case did not prevail, the court’s interpretation of the statute provides a clear path for homeowners to show that their neighbor’s spite fences interfere with the use and enjoyment of their property without requiring a showing of actual malicious intent on behalf of the neighbor.

If your neighbor has erected a fence or other structure on their property and it has negatively affected your use and enjoyment of your Connecticut property, please contact David Rintoul at drintoul@znclaw.com for a free telephone consultation to discuss your potential claim.

This article was co-authored by legal intern, Alyssa Ferreone. Alyssa is not yet admitted to the practice of law.