Is Missouri a Fence In or Fence Out State?
For most people, fence laws can seem very overwhelming. Not only do they affect how much homeowners have to pay to put a fence around their property, but these laws are essential when deciding liability in the event of property damage. However, matters become more complex in some states, such as Missouri, which have two distinct sets of fence laws. But what is the difference, and can Missouri be considered a fence in or fence out state?
What Is a Fence In State?
In fence in states, homeowners need to build fences around their property to keep escaped livestock from entering. If they fail to do so and their property gets damaged by the roaming livestock, they won’t be able to get compensation from the owner in question. Contrastly, if the fence causes harm to the animals, the homeowner can be liable to pay damages to the livestock owner.
It’s also important to mention that if the livestock escapes through a partition fence, the owner could be held responsible for the damages, especially if they neglected to maintain the partition fence. But that applies only if the neighbor’s portion of the fence was appropriately maintained.
What Is a Fence Out State?
In open range or fence out states, landowners have the right to choose if they want to fence their land. The purpose of this regulation is to allow livestock to roam freely in certain remote parts of the state. But most importantly, under fence out laws, the livestock owner is not responsible for animal trespass that causes damage to a property that’s not protected by a fence. In fact, landowners who wish to keep livestock off their property have to fence off their own land.
What About Missouri?
Under current Missouri laws, livestock owners need to fence in their domestic animals. If they escape due to negligence, the owner can be liable for any damages they might inflict. However, the situation is not as straightforward as it seems. More specifically, Missouri has two fence laws, the general fence law and the local option fence law, each applying to a specific area in the state.
The General Fence Law
According to the general fence law, a landowner without livestock is not required to share the cost of maintaining or building a fence on a common property line with a neighbor who owns domestic animals. However, if both adjoining owners have livestock, each of them is responsible for maintaining their right half of the fence, as viewed from their property.
It’s important to note that there are special regulations that allow livestock owners to seek reimbursement for the fence. It applies in situations where a property owner doesn’t pay for the fence that their neighbor has built, citing that they don’t own livestock. However, if they do get animals later on, they might have to pay half of the cost of the fence to the original owner who built it.
The Local Option Fence Law
The local option fence law requires all homeowners to maintain half of the interior fence even if they don’t have livestock. Interestingly enough, the law doesn’t specify which part of the fence the owners need to maintain. But generally speaking, the right-hand rule is the custom throughout Missouri.
Currently, this law is in effect in:
● St. Clair
Liability for Escaped Animals
Liability for escaped animals varies depending on what law the homeowner needs to follow.
● General Fence Law: If an owner doesn’t have livestock, then any damage done is the livestock owner’s responsibility. However, this only applies if the livestock owner has been negligent. But even homeowners that don’t keep livestock can be liable if their trees or branches fall onto the fence, damaging it. In the event that both owners have livestock, the responsibility depends on what portion of the fence the livestock passed through.
● Local Option Fence Law: Under this law, owners have the right to get compensated for the repair of the portion of the fence the livestock broke through, but not for any other damages. If the animal owner has liability coverage, then the insurance company might have to cover the damages.
Missouri Fencing Laws
All in all, while Missouri’s fence laws can be hard to understand, they provide owners protection from unfair lawsuits. Additionally, these laws take some responsibility away from the livestock owners, as they can’t always control the actions of their animals. However, such laws are constantly changing, so it is imperative to regularly check Missouri’s Revisor of Statutes for updates.
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