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I have a fence that separates my land from my neighbors and I'd like to figure out how to prevent dirt from washing onto my land from the 2" gap under the fence. It's a painted wood fence with horizontal wood.

There is a slight slope to my neighbor's yard and my side of the fence has a wide brick walkway that is about 6-10 inches away from the fence. The opposite side of the walkway features a short concrete hip wall with french drains running along the edge. Those drains get clogged by the dirt that comes from my neighbors yard when we get a good amount of rainfall and therefor it can create a small lake that is not fun to walk through.

This fence is a very sensitive issue with my neighbor since the previous owner on our house installed it to replace a much shorter fence. The taller fence cut off much of my neighbor's view of a pond that is nearby. We love the fence since it makes it so we don't see much of the neighbors ugly yard and gives us privacy. So, I'm looking for a solution that might allow water to flow, but dramatically limit the amount of soil moving while at the same time not creating too much notice on my neighbor's part.

A contractor wanted to remove the fence, install a retaining wall with filter fabric behind it and then re-install the fence. That would a) be too expensive and b) cause way too much disruption with my neighbor. Is there something I can install either on my side of the fence in the 6-10" gap between it and brick walkway, or something I can slip onto the neighbor's side that would not be overly noticeable.

Below are the original architectural plans where I added color: Black=Fence, Red=Brick Walkway, Yellow=hip wall

Black=Fence, Red=Brick Walkway, Yellow=hip wall

fence on left with gap below

View from my side of the fence.

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  • Is there room to do a version of the retaining wall filter fabric combo on your side of the fence without removing anything?
    – JPhi1618
    Dec 17 '19 at 20:36
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    A couple of pictures would save a lot of questions and enable some targeted feedback. Dec 17 '19 at 20:39
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    The inherent problem is that you want to make your decorative fence into a dam. The inevitable outcome is that you'll have an accumulation of mud and debris against it, rotting it out, and it won't hold everything back anyway. You need to work with your neighbor to re-route or otherwise alter the runoff flow, or you'll need to capture and manage it on your side.
    – isherwood
    Dec 17 '19 at 22:28
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    Make your neighbor a deal: Stop the erosion and make your yard aesthetic, and you'll lower the fence. Dec 18 '19 at 20:14
  • How close to your property line is your fence (and what is the legal allowance for fence proximity to property lines? In my town, for example, fences can't be closer than 6 ft to a property line)? If your fence is set in from the property line a few feet, it makes it a lot easier for you to go to the other side of the fence and make some drainage changes at the bottom of the hill, for example. Or, is it really the neighbor's fence since it is on his property?
    – TylerH
    May 18 '20 at 20:32
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To further isherwood's comment on your original post, once your neighbor's dirt is piled high enough on his side of the fence, the dirt and water will start to come through the gap between the bottom 2 boards instead of under the bottom board. Then you're back to the same problem, just higher. Until the bottom board rots out.

Harper's comment about working with the neighbor to reroute the drainage on his side and lowering your fence to restore his view is probably the best suggestion.

If the neighbor is unwilling to work with you, then your best bet is probably going to involve a fair bit of expense on your side - installing a 2nd French drain on the other side of the walkway to capture his runoff before it hits your walkway.

Getting the water off on the uphill side will eliminate the flooded walkway, leaving just the dirt behind (if there's fine enough filtration on top). This will, unfortunately, require some regular maintenance on your part to keep your uphill drain clean. It's one of those trade-offs in life - clean the drain or walk through the puddles.

After getting some estimates to tear up half your walkway, install the drain, and reinstall the walkway, you may want to go back to the neighbor with some cash in hand and offer to help pay for the drainage work on his side instead. Note: I'm not suggesting you pay for all of it, or even the majority of it, just some as a goodwill gesture and because it will be cheaper (and less disruptive to you) than doing the work on your side. A cash contribution toward the work and an offer to lower some of the fence to restore at least some of the view without giving up too much of your privacy may go a long way toward getting this solved properly. If you go this route and the neighbor is agreeable, I'd suggest putting it all in writing before starting, just to be safe. I don't think a lawyer would be necessary - generally putting it on paper with both your signatures (each of you retain a copy) should be sufficient. That's a question for law.se, though, not here.

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  • I appreciate our suggestion and wish it aligned with my desires. If the bottom board would eventually rot, then I would consider replacing the bottom board with a synthetic material prevent that problem, hoping that hardware cloth would be able to keep the soil on my neighbor's side of the fence while allowing water to slowly filter through and head to my french drains. May 19 '20 at 14:53
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You could probably just push some hardware cloth diagonally down into the ground from the top of the lowest horizontal board into the dirt on the neighbor's side. Once leave accumulate on the surface it won't be visible from his side and only minimally from yours at the attachment point. That would prevent the leaves from coming through while leaving the water to flow through. Choose some fairly large weave hardware cloth - I image that stopping the likely infinite source of larger leaves is the primary goal.

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  • The OP refers to 'dirt' washing through the fence, which I interpret more as sand and soil, rather than leaves.
    – brhans
    Dec 19 '19 at 13:00
  • I wonder if using gravel to create a 45° angle up to the fence and then placing hardware cloth over that would help to allow water flow. May 19 '20 at 14:55

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