In New York, property owners grazing livestock are required to erect, maintain and repair the fenceline. Under New York Town Law § 300, each owner of two adjoining tracts of land is required to erect and maintain a fence to keep his/her grazing animals separate, unless they agree (in writing) to let their lands lie open to allow the animals to graze on either property. If one of the owners has not kept animals in the past five years, then that owner is not responsible for erecting, maintaining, or repairing a division fence. In New York, a livestock farmer has the responsibility to “fence in” his/her livestock. Taking time to inspect your fence (and taking notes in a journal) is a good plan for livestock owners.
Additionally, NY Town Law § 303-5 vests in town officials known as “fence viewers” the power to investigate and determine who is responsible for refusing or neglecting to make or maintain a division fence, and to assess the actual damage caused by such neglect. Moreover, under § 307-8, if livestock from an adjoining property damages the property of an owner who was at fault for failing to make or maintain his fence, then the failure to maintain the fence precludes recovery for damage from the strayed animal. Failure to maintain your fence will also preclude the owner of purebred stock from bringing a cause of action against the owner of a stallion, buck, or boar who strays and damages that stock.
Under NY Town Law § 309, barbed or other wire may be used in the construction of any division fence, provided that such fence be constructed as follows:
- Have at least four strands of wire;
- With posts and supports no further than fourteen feet apart (or such distance that the local officials prescribe); and
- Built as a reasonably sufficient enclosure for holding the particular kind or class of cattle or animals usually pastured on either side of the fence.
Under section 309, if an unrepaired fence is unsafe, then it shall be the duty of the owner or owners to immediately repair it.
Finally, under N.Y. Real. Prop. Acts. § 843, if you erect any fence or structure taller than ten feet in height for the purpose of excluding the adjacent land’s enjoyment of light or air, then your neighbor may have a private nuisance claim against you.
This is an excerpt from my first book that I co-authored with Pat Dillon, an Iowa agriculture lawyer titled “Field Manual: Legal Guide for New York Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs” available on CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle and iBooks. You can find out more about this book here.