The Fence Viewers help review and assist with settling disputes regarding fences.
Upon request of any citizen, the Fence Viewer, views fences to see that they are in good repair and in case of disputes between neighbors, works to resolve their differences. Problems such as size, condition, and distance from property lines are common complaints.
The Fence Viewers advise lot owners prior to constructing a fence. The height of the fence can be no higher than six feet except near intersections. Lot owners at intersections cannot erect a fence nor shrubbery closer than five feet to allow good visibility. A fence or shrub near there must be no higher than three feet.
Spite fences erected to annoy neighbors are illegal. The Fence Viewer has the power to order such fences changed to be inoffensive. If hostilities escalate, the building inspector is asked to become involved. The building inspector's word is final. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 49 describes in detail the obligations of lot owners.
Fence Viewers may be reached via mail to: Board of Fence Viewers, City Hall, 62 Friend Street, or by phone Monday-Friday ONLY.
New England farmers clearing their land during the 17th century were confronted with boulders and stones left by retreating glaciers. They cleared their fields of the boulders with horses and built stone walls along the edges of their fields, frequently at the property boundary. Many of these walls still exist.
A Fence Viewer was needed on those occasions when walls were eroded, moved, or modified illegally.
In Massachusetts, this position was first established in 1693 by a statute which was amended in 1785 and again in 1836.
Early Fence Viewers, armed with wall measurements, were able to arbitrate and/or prosecute such crimes by adjoining farmers. Trespassing by livestock was illegal. Boundaries and fences had to be maintained. If a farmer neglected his fence, his neighbor could do the repairs and charge his nonperforming neighbor twice the cost. If the negligent neighbor didn't come up with the money, he had to pay 12% interest until payment was made.