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Is it illegal to stain my side of the neighbours’ fence without asking them?

The question

My neighbours just installed a lovely fence (on their dime) that I'd like to stain to match our other fence. Do I need to consult my neighbours or is the surface facing my yard fair game?

The answer

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Oh, boy. Well, there's the legal answer and then there's the neighbourly answer.

A fence on the property line is really in joint ownership. So you can paint your side whatever colour you want. But before you pick up a brush, ask yourself: Are you sure the fence is not on the neighbours' property? People often put up fences on their side of the divide so they will have control.

That said, it seems the neighbours went out of their way to be amicable (by paying for the fence), so the least you could do is to consult with them.

They may want to paint their side as well and split the cost with you. But if they say no to your paint-job offer and you still want to proceed, my advice is to simultaneously pick a colour and a lawyer. This could be a lawsuit just waiting to happen.

Architect and interior designer Dee Dee Taylor Eustace's new e-book, Dee Dee's Rules , is available on iTunes. Follow her on Twitter: @ddtaylordd. Have a design problem? E-mail style@globeandmail.com.

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