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Alberta’s Line Fence Act states that if neighbours share a fence, both are responsible for the costs associated with building and maintaining it. The legislation also provides guidance on what to do in case of a dispute.
A local mediator says that before an innocent backyard chat ends up in arbitration, neighbours should be approached respectfully to discuss the who, what, where, when and how of building and paying for the fence.
“We have a mnemonic device appropriate for anytime you want to have a conversation. It’s CHAT — Check in, Have an agenda, Arrange a time to talk that works for everybody and Talk about the issues, impact and solution. Keep your conversation focused on those three things,” says Jackie Shawcross of Community Mediation in Calgary.
On the agenda should be a discussion of expectations and outcomes, which should include as much detail as possible. What type of fence does each party want? How tall should it be? What will it be made of and who will do the work and purchase materials? What time will work commence each day? Most importantly, how to split the cost? If one neighbour can’t physically do the labour, what other resources might they have?
If the other neighbour’s opinion is drastically different, Shawcross recommends naïve inquiry.
“Ask open ended questions to understand why something is important and how they arrived at that. If someone wants a six-foot fence and you want a four-foot fence, ask why that’s important to them. It helps find common ground,” she says.
If a conversation is uncomfortable or reaches an impasse, organizations such as Community Mediation can help people move past their positions to a solution.