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. The fence or row of trees usually serves no purpose to the owner. Several states and local governments have fence and tree height restrictions to restrict the construction and planting of a spite fence.
Note that the overly tall fence must not have some legitimate purpose other than spite to be prohibited; 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.
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 only not spite fences, but may actually be required.
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 wall or Blinder wall.
Charles Crocker, a railroad investor and owner of a house on Nob Hill, built a high fence around his neighbor's house spoiling his view, after the neighbor held out for many times the 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.
William Waldorf Astor's mansion was next door to that of his aunt, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, on the block later occupied by the Empire State Building. William and his aunt did not get along well. William decided to replace his mansion with a hotel, the original Waldorf Hotel. The building not only towered over his aunt's home, it also had no windows at all on the side facing the mansion, thus functioning as a three-dimensional spite fence resulting from an Astor family feud.
Several Major League Baseball parks have been located in places where it was possible for neighbors on rooftops to watch the games freely. Some club owners responded by building spite fences to block the view, at some point after the park's original construction (as opposed to Fenway Park or League Park, which had tall fences from the beginning). For example, this was done at various times at Bennett Park, West Side Park and Wrigley Field. The longest-lasting of such spite fences was at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, which stood for the last half of the ballpark's six decades of use. This action may have brought short-term financial gain to the Philadelphia Athletics, but in the long run, by setting the team apart from the neighborhood, it harmed both the builder as well as the target – an unintended result of building a spite fence.
With the advent of the multi-purpose stadium in the 1960s, teams and municipalities began constructing them in commercial districts as opposed to residential areas, primarily to take advantage of increased parking space, but also to prevent people from viewing games for free, although such stadiums (especially the "cookie-cutter" stadiums) had high enclosed walls anyway in order to better accommodate football. This trend continued after teams started moving back into purpose-built stadiums in the 1990s. Nonetheless, some newer stadiums still have views that allow fans to watch for free; for instance, PNC Park in Pittsburgh is open-ended toward the Roberto Clemente Bridge, allowing some fans to watch a game for free on the bridge.
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 them. The farmer described the construction as 'Redneck Stonehenge'.
Irish Hills Towers in Michigan
In the early 1920s, the Michigan Observation Company wanted to erect a 50-foot-high (15 m) observation tower for tourism on a hill which was owned by two different people. One land owner agreed to sell his property, the other didn't. When the tower was constructed, the non-selling party felt spited and built a tower just feet from the existing one. This started an escalating tower building war. As of 2015, the towers are still standing and are on the National Register of Historic Places. See full article.
Edward T. Hall described in The Hidden Dimension how, as part of a decades-long dispute, a Beirut, Lebanon man built a "thick, four-story wall" on a narrow strip of land adjacent to another house, blocking its view of the sea. According to Hall, cutting off a view is enough to make a house like a tomb.
Tree 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."
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. Handley planted 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.
- "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.
- Famous "San Francisco Panorama (annotated)" Check
|url=value (help). 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.)
- Jonathan, Goldman (1980). The Empire State Building Book. St. Martin's Press. p. 14.
- Kuklick, Bruce (1991). To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976. Princeton University Press. pp. 73–76. ISBN 0-691-02104-X. Retrieved 2008-03-26.
- "Farmer sends message to neighbors with car fence". Fox News. 2008-08-05.