Clearing the fence row and trimming back overhanging branches


By Sam Custer - Darke County Extension



The weather is finally beginning to cooperate and we are beginning to get in the fields. As farmers enter the fields this spring they will find that, the fields that are bordered by trees will be a work in progress. The ash trees took a beating by the wind this spring and are going to need to be cleaned up along the fencerows.

Chris Hogan, Law Fellow OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program, recently wrote on the Ag Law Blog this summary of rights and responsibilities of landowners when cleaning up the fencerows.

Farmers are gearing up for spring and preparing to plant crops and graze livestock. Part of spring-cleaning may involve clearing partition fencerows at the edge of fields and trimming back overhanging branches above the fence. Overgrown tree branches can affect crops and pose a hazard to agricultural equipment. Removing trees that obstruct the fencerow, noxious weeds tangled in the fence, and other unwanted vegetation is a serious matter for Ohio farmers. Ohio law provides for ways to clear a partition fence shared between two neighboring properties. Ohio law also cautions against damaging trees when trimming overhanging branches.

Clearing the fence row

This section only applies to the removal of vegetation in the fencerow. Clearing overhanging trees above the fence is a separate matter discussed further below.

A partition fence is a fence that follows the division line between adjoining properties of two owners. The term “fence row” refers to the strip of land that is on either side of the fence. In order to keep a fence in good condition, owners should occasionally clear the fencerow of obstructions caused by vegetation. Clearing a fencerow keeps noxious weeds, brush, briers, and

other vegetation from spreading onto a neighbor’s property. Ohio law provides several methods for a landowner to clear the fencerow legally.

The easiest way to clear the fencerow is to ask a neighbor to clear his or her side of the partition fence. Ohio law creates a duty for owners on either side of a partition fence to clear brush, briers, thistles and other noxious weeds in a strip four feet wide along the line of the fence, after a landowner gives notice to a neighbor asking them to do so. It is best to be polite, patient, and clear when speaking with a neighbor about when you would each like to clear the fencerow. A landowner and a neighboring owner should try to establish a timeline to clear each side of the fencerow.

What if a landowner asks a neighbor to clear the fencerow on their side of a partition fence and they refuse? Once a landowner asks a neighbor to clear a fencerow, that neighbor has ten days to do so. If a neighbor does not clear it within ten days, the landowner can ask the local board of township trustees to arrange for the fencerow to be cleared.

After a landowner notifies the trustees that a neighbor refused to clear the fencerow within ten days, the township trustees must view the property to determine if there is just cause for the complaint. Next, if there is a cause for the complaint, the trustees will enter into a contract with a third party to clear the fencerow and certify the associated costs to the county auditor. The county auditor will bill the neighboring landowner for the work to clear the fencerow. The auditor will assess these costs against the neighboring landowner by adding these costs to his or her property tax bill.

Trimming back overhanging branches

Landowners have the right to trim vertically and remove overhanging obstructions from above their side of the fence. Ohio courts recognize this privilege to remove obstructions, but not without limitations. Ohio courts do not permit landowners to cause harm to the other side of the property line. A landowner should be careful not to damage the neighbor’s trees or trespass on to the neighbor’s property when trimming overhanging branches. Landowners may be liable to a neighbor if they recklessly damage a neighbor’s tree when removing overhanging branches.

Landowners should review their rights and responsibilities to maintain fences prior to clearing the fencerow this spring. For more information on line fence law, visit the Ag Law Library at https://aglaw.osu.edu/our-library/line-fence-law.

Sam Custer is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator for the Darke County Ohio State University Extension. He may be reached by email at custer.2@osu.edu

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By Sam Custer

Darke County Extension

Sam Custer is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator for the Darke County Ohio State University Extension. He may be reached by email at custer.2@osu.edu

Sam Custer is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator for the Darke County Ohio State University Extension. He may be reached by email at custer.2@osu.edu