The Common Law

My neighbor takes “Keep Austin Weird” to the next level

My neighbor's yard looks terrible. Grass, weeds, and trees are overgrown and haven't ever been cleaned up. Trash and weird objects strewn throughout the yard. Lots of the neighbors have politely asked the owner to get it together and under control, but he's ignored the requests. Anything the other neighbors and I can do?

Sounds like your neighbor could be in violation of several city ordinances. For example, the city of Austin requires that grass and weeds must be shorter than 12 inches. Property owners are also required to trim overhanging trees so that there is at least 14 feet of clearance at the curb line. You could contact the city (call non-emergency 311) and report the potential violations. The city should investigate, give the property owner notice of noncompliance, and allow for a short period of time to fix the violation. If the problem is not fixed within the allotted time, the city can fix the issues and bill the property owner for the work.

I want to replace the fence between my neighbor's yard and mine. It's ugly and beat-up. My neighbor wants to leave it. Can I replace it on my own?

When it comes to fences, ugly doesn't necessarily mean unlawful. Assuming your efforts at neighborly chats don't resolve the issue, the first thing to figure out is whether the fence runs along the property boundary line. Location of the fence is important because it determines who has control over the fence. A property owner generally has the ability to fence his property as he sees fit (without causing a nuisance) as long as the fence is on his property. Alternatively, if the fence turns out to be on the neighbor's property, you are most likely stuck with the fence. If the fence runs along the boundary line, the fence belongs to both neighbors, in which case both owners are generally responsible for keeping the fence in good condition, and neither neighbor can remove the fence without permission from the neighbor who shares the fence.

Assuming your neighbor refuses to agree to remove the fence, you could build a second fence on your property to block the view of the ugly fence. If that is not economically feasible, you may be forced to live with it, as there is no law or ordinance that specifically prohibits ugly fences.

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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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