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Can My Neighbor Prevent Me From Building My Dream Home?

Can My Neighbor Prevent Me From Building My Dream Home?

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Question:

After many years of living in an apartment building, we finally moved into our first house. I love my new home, my space and my privacy. I especially love having a small lawn where I can go to relax and unwind. One of my first projects is to put up a higher fence in my backyard so no one is peering into my little sanctuary.

Here’s the problem: My neighbor claims that a higher fence will block her sunny view and make her feel like she is too closed in.

Do I stop my project because of my neighbor’s complaint, or can I finally have my dreamed-of privacy?

My neighbor claims that a higher fence will block her view

Answer:

There are two key issues here: a) your privacy; b) blocking your neighbor’s view and sunshine.

The importance of respecting another person’s privacy cannot be overstated.

The Torah records how after Balaam’s initial efforts to curse the Jewish nation failed, he shifted gears. He noticed that the Jews camped in such a way that the openings of their tents didn’t face one another, in order to respect each other’s privacy.1 Balaam praised the Jews, saying, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your dwelling places, O Israel!”2

This moment in history is considered so important that many have the custom of opening the daily morning prayers with this very verse.

The concept of privacy—or to be more accurate, the invasion of it—is called in Jewish law hezek re’iyah, damage by vision, and is the basis for the law that one may not place a door opposite his neighbor’s existing door, nor a window opposite his window or courtyard.3

Additionally, if two people share a courtyard, one can (usually) force the other to help build a dividing wall to prevent the neighbors from seeing into each other’s property. However, the neighbor can be forced to partner in building a wall only up to four amot (6–8 feet) in height, which is slightly higher than the average person; anything higher would need to either be built completely on one’s own property, or one would have to compensate the neighbor.4

But, regardless of whether a wall is actually built, you still can’t gaze into your neighbor’s home or yard. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes, “It is forbidden to watch your friend without his prior knowledge while he is conducting his activities at his home or property, for he may not wish people to see these activities.”5

Although you didn’t mention the height of the existing fence, and there is therefore no way to know whether the neighbor needs to partner with you, you seem ready to build the extension completely out of your own pocket and on your own property, making the question of privacy a moot point. So, the only real question here is about blocking your neighbor’s sunlight.

The only real question here is about blocking your neighbor’s sunlight

The Code of Jewish Law states that if you wish to build a wall next to your neighbor’s window to prevent the neighbor from invading your privacy, you need to make sure to build the wall at least four amot away, so that you don’t block the neighbor’s light.6 So as long as your wall is the proper distance from your neighbor’s window, you are within your rights to build the wall—or make it higher—even if it does block a little of the sunlight.

There are, however, exceptions to the above rule; for instance, with regard to a synagogue, which needs more light, one would need to distance the wall 8 amot.7 Since there are exceptions, contemporary rabbis conclude that the 4-amot rule applies only under ordinary circumstances. However, if there are any specific customs, laws, building codes or bylaws about blocking your neighbor’s view, or about how tall one can build a fence or wall in your community, then you are bound, even purely from a Jewish legal perspective—and one not just based on the rule that dina de-malchuta dina, “the law of the land is the law”8—to follow those rules.9

So, barring any specific local laws or customs, you have the right to extend the height of the wall. However, since you are probably going to be neighbors for quite a while, I would strongly recommend that you try to come up with some sort of compromise or accommodation.

I wish you many happy years in your new home.

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Bava Batra 60a.
3.
Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 154:3.
4.
Ibid. 157:9.
5.
Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, Choshen Mishpat, Hilchot Nizkei Mamon 11.
6.
Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 154:21; see also She’eilot u-Teshuvot Rivash 289.
7.
See Noda bi-Yehudah, Mahadura Tinyana, Orach Chaim 16 for a discussion of the sources.
8.
Talmud, Bava Kamma 113a.
9.
See Emek ha-Mishpat 3:16.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Jerry M K Minneapolis via chabadminneapolis.com November 14, 2014

Moral vs Legal In my opinion, the most important question to answer is if the neighbor's complaint is reasonable.

The answer must be based on facts, not feelings.

If the complaint is reasonable, a compromise should be offered because doing what's morally right trumps doing what's legally right.

If the complaint is unreasonable, the fence should be built exactly as planned to code.

Should the fence be built, it then becomes the responsibility of the neighbor complaining to make amends; i.e. apologize for being selfish since everyone has the right to improve their properties within the scope of doing it the proper way. Reply

victoria ovejero December 23, 2013

Can My Neighbor Prevent Me From Building My Dream Home? Thank you Jabad, you have all the answers for me.-
Shalom ubraja Reply

Anonymous raynes park December 12, 2013

I have not commented on the fence at all! My comment was about squeezing potatoes before making latkes. Reply

Anonymous December 10, 2013

Privacy After building the wall according to the law, plant some fast growing hedges.
Then let them "overgrow" a little. Reply

Howard Katz San Diego, USA via jewishcabo.com December 9, 2013

The wall Build the wall according to code.Then you will not be able to see your irate interfering neighbor. Some people will never be satisfied. Reply

sue Kanata October 22, 2013

There are glass or plexiglass fence components these days. Perhaps semi-opaqued? Reply

Feigele Boca Raton October 14, 2013

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! There is always a just middle. It doesn’t have to be the countryside nor the city where to plant your roots. Finding a solution to live in the suburb in peace with your neighbors shouldn’t be such a stressful decision. Go with your heart, it is not a business decision, nor a matter of life or death. It is searching for comfort without over shadowing someone else. Wouldn’t you rather spend your evenings peacefully watching all the disturbing news - lol? Or a good movie or read your newspapers? Not having bad conscience about having upset so much your neighbors, which would linger for a very long time. Reply

stuck in the city Brooklyn October 13, 2013

Country dream home. This is why my dream home would be out in the countryside where you can have acres of land and plenty of space to have high walls that will not block any Sunlight from anyone else's house and you can have plenty of tall trees and bushes (which by the way, usually have gaps through which, outsiders can see into the property) and enough distance from the property line to give privacy even without any walls.

Plus you can have things in the country that you cannot easily have in the city or in the average neighborhood, such as private (and tznius) swimming pools, and
Your own horses and riding areas on your property.

To be able to look over open land to the horizon at the rising and setting Sun from your window is something you can't usually have in most neighborhoods or in the city, unless you live in the penthouse of a very tall building. Reply

pistachio Peru October 13, 2013

placing a fence.............. is not so different from establishing a border......
Are not borders established for Good Reason.......
?What country, state, county or town does not have borders.

I would like to know what you would say to your neighbor asking you to remove your doors.......this sounds foolish but I am certain you get the idea.

and to add.....

I do not understand how increasing the height of say a 4 foot high fence to even 8 feet would block the sun. Considering the inclination angle from the ground to 4 ft. and then even 8 ft. I calulate not very much difference between the two.
Surely for a few moments a day when the sun is low in the sky there may be some occulsion but it would only be momentary......and of short duration. Reply

Paul ok October 11, 2013

I had issues with my neighbors and wanting to keep my space private I got Hedges it took a few years but they are now 4 ft thick and 8 ft tall and i don't have to share my life at first she was all like upset and tried to use code enforcement to run us off or make use i'm not sure what but they didn't find anything wrong and there wasn't any rules against bushes and they grow fast and make companions to regular fencing so that regular chain link fence that lasts 100 yrs and keeps the dog in has the added privacy of wood but in a adjustable height Reply

Feigele Boca Raton FL October 11, 2013

What would King Solomon do in this instance? He would give you choices: either peace or hostility and resentment for years. Your neighbors might not be able to prevent anything unless the building dept. states so. But it would be common courtesy to take into account their feelings especially when spending years living next to them. Nothing good comes from having bad feelings between neighbors as oppose to have new friends that you can trust, which doesn’t come easily. How about going in the middle building a fence not so high as to hide light and sun or plant bushes. When living in such areas you really can’t have much privacy nor live in a box hidden from civilization. Privacy is not outside but inside your home. Grow plants right in front of your windows high enough like I did when living in New York having such a nosy neighbor. A fence is not a home it’s a statement dividing people in an offensive way. Reply

marcia nj October 11, 2013

The Purpose of My Fences... I have 2 fences, one around my property and one around my pool. Some townships have mandatory rules which should be looked into before purchasing your "dream home".
Both fences that I constructed were for peace of mind and the safety of my children (at the time) and pets till this day. My earlier post of Robert Frost's poem, needed to be taken in the context in which I meant it...nothing else. Good Shabbos Reply

Ellen Miriam Pedersen Valby, Denmark via chabadenmark.com October 11, 2013

Fencing What a lot of horror stories! The Danish law on the heght of fences between individual houses says max. 1.80 metres, period. The large issue at present is whether a neighbour is allowed to install a new roof that shines into the eyes of the original inhabitants whenever they aproach their windows or sit in their garden. For some reason shiny black roofs are the new fashion when a roof needs replacing. Reply

Anonymous October 10, 2013

Privacy Law Thank you for this interesting article on privacy.
Not only to do with property but about mutual respect of privacy in general. Reply

pistachio Viva el Peru ! October 10, 2013

Isn't it true that a fence would insure your neighbors privacy as well as yours. Additionally, if you stay in the constraints of the Conditions and Regulations of the rules set by the town or locality that your are within your rights. I believe this is reasonable.
As far as good side and bad side of a fence, you can select one that is the same on both sides thereby not giving cause for plausable allegations of unfairness.
As far as property logistics / boundaries are vertical not horizontal. I doubt a small increase in height would deter Sunlight from entering your neighbor's abode.
Also, you purchased the house [ probably at great expense ] to be able to utilize fully as your place of comfort / not to enhance or maintain your neighbors whims.
And in addition, your neighbor purchased his house with the possibility of any number of changes that could be brought about by any of the neighbors. That is built in to his decision to move in to That house.
Need I say more / build the fence. Reply

mike rudmin portsmouth, Va October 10, 2013

to marcia-on mending wall Marcia, In "mending wall", Frost indeed does not love the wall: notice how he inverts the first sentence to give importance to "something". That something that does not love a wall is himself. But he doesn't mock the neighbor. Indeed, he credits the neighbor with a mitzvah, loving his father's words. So one can see that although he does not love the wall, he loves his neighbor, and th'refore helps the neighbor mend the wall, using that as a time to be together. Reply

Peter Spiro Stevenson, WA October 9, 2013

When I lived in Brooklyn ... I lived in a six story building, one side facing an empty lot which was eventually sold and a tall building erected in its place shutting out the light on all the apartments which had previously faced the empty lot.

The guy who owned the lot sold the lot, and the city gov't sold the air rights. So the people on that darkened side had nothing but the air from a dark shaft to ventilate their apartments.

The powers that exist are hardly ever friendly to individuals. Imagine selling someone's "air rights."

So you tell me: how much privacy or light is anyone entitled to?

If we don't want people peering into our bedroom window we can always draw the shade. This way there is light and privacy aplenty for all.

But if the welcome sign is lit and the window shade is up then you can't fault people for gazing in.

Only make available to others what you don't want to remain private. And what you want to remain private, keep out of other people's view. Otherwise it's just a game. Reply

Anonymous texas October 9, 2013

interesting Reply

Deon Nossel New York October 9, 2013

Mediation This sounds like the type of dispute for which mediation might be helpful. A good mediator would help the two neighbors have a conversation about what's really important to each of them about privacy, sunlight and perhaps other things related to the fence. By coming to a deeper understanding of what's important to themselves and each other, they may be able to get beyond the anger and.come up with some creative solutions that might meet both their needs. Reply

Golda V E Haberland (Leijonhufvud) NW republic ireland October 9, 2013

Privacy Many years ago I undertook to build a wooden fence six foot high and have always done so, since the limit is 8 ft I applied chain link fencing above in addition I grew beautiful flowers and creepers to not only be enjoyed by me but also my neighbors. It is unreasonable for another party to expect to have the ability to view into one's bedrooms and private areas. I quite understand the rights to privacy and as Rabbi suggests the neighbor must compromise and respect the privacy of his neighbor. Now I live in 2.5 secluded acres surrounded by woodland, a small front patio and have worked hard to achieve this end. My cottage is quite small and bother's no one. Reply