Every so often I’ll get a call from a reader who has a legal question that I have no idea how to answer.
In most instances, I’ll suggest calling a lawyer. At one point, we had the resources to investigate this sort of thing. Not so much anymore. However, the Illinois Farm Bureau does a terrific job of keeping up on farmers’ legal queries.
At the Governmental Affairs Leadership Conference, livestock program director Jim Fraley explained a facet of Illinois fence law that harkens back to a question I received many moons ago. I’ve since forgot who called and asked about this, but here’s the gist of the question.
I put up a fence to keep my cows out of my neighbor’s field. I asked him to help with the cost of the project, but he refused. I thought fence law dictated he had to pay half. Also, not only did he refuse, he said he’d sue for damages if my cows got into his corn field. Can he do that?
To the reader who posed the question, I’m sorry but your neighbor is correct. The legal precedent for this question stems from a 1995 decision from the 4th District Illinois Appellate Court. Commonly referred to as the Wallis Case, the court ruled that a landowner with no livestock does not have to reimburse a neighbor for a fence that divides their property.
Now, if the fence breaks, can the neighbor sue for crop damages? If the neighbor can show the fence had fallen into disrepair, yes. However, it was an “Act of God” (like a tree fell on the fence), then no.
One last detail: if the neighbor ever decides to turn livestock against their side of the fence, then you can demand they reimburse you for half the cost of the fence.