As spring thaw approaches, many farmers in South Dakota will be getting out and partaking in everyone’s favorite summer activity: fence fixing. Amidst the precision technology evolution of farming, the sophisticated marketing strategies, and the capital intensive land transactions, I am always surprised at how many questions I continue to receive every year regarding the legal responsibilities for keeping a good fence in South Dakota. As you start to think about fixing the fence that was pushed down by the snow over the winter, here’s a quick refresher of some basic, key points concerning partition fences in South Dakota:
Your Responsibility. Typically, each neighboring landowner is responsible for one-half of the cost to put up or maintain a partition fence between neighboring lands. When an individual is looking at a given fence, he is responsible for the right hand side of that fence. This is a simple, but effective, rule. The parties can agree otherwise, of course, and landowners may not be responsible for keeping up a fence if neither party has had livestock on their ground for five years, or if there is no other beneficial purpose for keeping a fence during that same period of time.
Fence Specifications. Neighboring landowners can to put up whatever type of fence they would like, so long as both owners agree on the particulars. In almost all cases, it’s best to agree on what is acceptable. If not, South Dakota law does actually prescribe the type of fence to be constructed: 4” wood or concrete posts, spaced no more than thirty feet apart, or steel posts no more than twenty feet apart. Or some combination of wood/concrete and steel. The law requires at least four strands of barbed wire spaced ten inches apart from one another.
Enforcing the Law. If a neighbor refuses to keep up his portion of a shared fence, your half is all but useless. The law recognizes this and lays out a procedure for requiring a neighbor to comply. An aggrieved landowner can send the neighbor written notice demanding his portion of the fence be kept up. If the neighbor doesn’t respond, the law allows, under certain circumstances, for you to have the fence repaired and recover the costs through the court system.
Good luck this spring! Let me know if you run into any fence troubles.