Spite fence is a term used in American property law to refer to an overly tall fence, structure in the nature of a fence, or a row of trees, bushes, or hedges, constructed or planted between adjacent lots by a property owner (with no legitimate purpose), who is annoyed with or wishes to annoy a neighbor, or who wishes to completely obstruct the view between lots. Several U.S. states and local governments have regulations to prohibit spite fences, or related regulations such as those establishing a maximum allowed height for fences.
Note that an overly tall fence must not have some legitimate purpose other than spite to be prohibited as a spite fence; if there is some other reason for the fence which requires the extra height, a court may permit it. In one case, a man built a 13-foot fence on his property, and his neighbor sued him. The man had put up a fence that tall because his neighbor kept throwing garbage over the old (shorter) fence. Since keeping garbage out of one's yard is a legitimate reason to have a fence, it was found not to be a spite fence.
Several states in the United States have laws that prohibit planting a row of trees parallel to a property line, which exceed 6 to 10 feet in height, which block a neighbor's view and/or sunlight. The courts have ruled that a row of trees can be considered a "fence".
Golf courses near residential communities will often have fences exceeding 20 feet in height in order to prevent struck balls from flying out of the course and into the windshields of cars and windows of houses near the course. Such fences are not spite fences, and may actually be required. Outdoor arenas and amphitheatres also often use fences or other obstructions to prevent the viewing of their events by those who don't have tickets (which, although it may be unpopular with those whose free viewing is obstructed, is not necessarily spiteful).
In countries which follow Romano-German jurisdiction, erecting a spite fence (or a spite house or spite wall) is unequivocally prohibited because of the judicial principle of prohibition of chicane: law must not be used to allow or justify causing intentional harm.
There are also similar, more permanent, structures known as spite walls or blinder walls.
In the California case of Wilson v. Handley, 97 Cal. App. 4th 1301 (2002), Wilson built a second story onto her log cabin. Her neighbor, Handley, did not like this addition, and retaliated by planting a row of evergreen trees, parallel to the property line, that would grow some day to purposely block Wilson's view of Mt. Shasta. Wilson sued Handley for blocking her view. The California Court of Appeals ruled that trees planted parallel to a property line, to purposely block a neighbors' view, constitutes a spite fence and a private nuisance, and is illegal under California Civil Code (Section 841.4). The court further noted that bushes or hedges exceeding 6 feet in height in California (6–10 feet in other states) that block a neighbor's view are also a "spite fence" and a private nuisance.
Charles Crocker, a railroad investor and owner of a house on Nob Hill in San Francisco, built a high fence around his neighbor's house, spoiling his view, after the neighbor held out for many times the market value of the property. (Crocker had wanted to buy the whole block.) The neighbor was a German undertaker called Nicolas Yung; Crocker was unsuccessful in purchasing the house until Yung had died. The height of the fence meant supporting buttresses had to be used. The work features in the April 1878 panoramic photo of San Francisco by Eadweard Muybridge.
In 2008 a farmer in Hooper, Utah, placed three old cars upright in the ground, after a dispute with his neighbors, who objected to the flies, mosquitoes and dust from his farm yet also rejected his proposal to build a fence between their property and his farm. The farmer described the construction as 'Redneck Stonehenge'.
- "The Spite Fence". Panorama of San Francisco. The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-26.
- "Archive – City Views of San Francisco". Retrieved 2008-03-26. The spite fence appears near the Charles Crocker Mansion and the Gen. David Colton/Collis Huntington Mansion on California Street. It looks much like a building in its own right. (There are two panoramic photos on this page. The second photo contains arrows pointing to streets and other features, including one arrow that points to the spite fence. You have to scroll to the right to see the entire photo. In the first photo, the one without arrows, the spite fence is about one-eighth the way into the photo from the left edge. In the second photo, the one with arrows, the spite fence is about three-quarters the way in.)
- "Farmer sends message to neighbors with car fence". Fox News. 2008-08-05. Archived from the original on 2008-08-06.