Will Ferrell plays Phil Weston in the hit comedy movie, Kicking and Screaming. It’s hilarious, have you seen it? In the movie, Phil’s dad, Buck Weston, played by Robert Duvall, has an ongoing rivalry with his neighbor, Mike Ditka. These funny characters are the epitome of neighborhood feuds with neighbors peeking over fences. The two throw leaves back and forth into each other’s yards, yell across fence lines, and continuously invade each other’s privacy.
No Privacy From Neighbors
Do you have your own Mike Ditka-Buck Weston feud, or do you feel one coming on? Maybe we can help you out with some tips to peacefully protect yourself from inconsiderate and nosy neighbors. Keep reading for some insight into how to regain your privacy.
Why Is My Neighbor Peeking Over the Fence?
There are many reasons why it may seem like your neighbors won’t give you privacy. Before getting frustrated or jumping to conclusions, it’s best to try and understand why they might be constantly looking over the fence. Chances are there is a completely harmless reason for their behavior.
Here are some reasons that may explain their actions:
- They’re just lonely and looking for social interaction.
- They want to be friends, but don’t know how to approach you.
- They’re worried about you and want to make sure you’re okay.
- They’re checking to see if there’s anything they can help you with.
- They’re just looking for something they’ve lost like a ball or their cat.
- They’re being neighborly and keeping an eye on your property.
- They just have a different cultural background and don’t realize their behavior may not be acceptable.
While none of these reasons are an excuse for their behavior, knowing why your neighbor is constantly looking over your fence is the best first step, and will help you deal with the situation in a more understanding way.
Is It Legal to Peek Over Someone’s Fence?
Once you’ve tried to understand their actions, it’s time to take some steps to protect your privacy. But before you do anything, you need to know if it’s legal if your neighbors can see over your fence.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this question. It all depends on the laws in your state or country, as well as the specific situation.
Most states have laws in place to protect the privacy of your property. These are called “invasion of privacy laws”.
In the state of California, under Penal Code Section 647(j), peeking into someone’s property can be considered an unlawful invasion of privacy if the following occur:
- A person peeks or looks through a small opening (like a hole or opening in the fence),
- The person looks into an area, a space, or a room where another person has a reasonable expectation of privacy (like into a bathroom or bedroom),
- The person uses a device, such as a camera or a telescope, to look or peek onto the other person’s property or space,
- And, the person had the intent to invade the privacy of the victim in doing so.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT legal advice or an opinion of any kind
It is also illegal for a person to wander onto the inhabited private property of another and/or stay on the property without having any business for being there, and while on the property, look through the door or window into the property, according to Penal Code Section 647(i).
However, according to avvo.com, if you are in a public space that is visible from a public or private place without the use of any viewing device, and a stranger or neighbor can see you, it is not considered an invasion of privacy.
For example, if you are walking on a public sidewalk and can see into someone’s backyard, that is not considered illegal. Similarly, if you are sitting in your backyard, where you have no reasonable expectation of privacy, and your neighbor looks over the fence and sees you, that is also not considered illegal.
Regulations vary through local and state jurisdictions. If you believe your neighbor has violated the laws or regulations, talk to a lawyer or look into your local penal code.
How to Deal With Neighbors Peeking Over Fence
In our previous articles on how to deal with intrusive neighbors and how to deal with your neighbors if they keep coming onto your driveway, we discussed many options that can also be useful when trying to protect your privacy if you have neighbors constantly looking over the fence into your backyard or property.
Here are some more ways to deal with those neighbors if they’re peeking over the fence:
1. Talk to Them
A face-to-face conversation with your neighbor could solve all of your privacy issues and give you peace of mind. It’s best to approach your neighbor with kindness and level-headedness. Give them the benefit of the doubt before you bring up your concerns.
Try to understand the reason behind their behavior. Remember all those potential explanations for your neighbor’s behavior we listed earlier? It’s possible your neighbor is just lonely or has different cultural norms. Maybe they think you need help and are just looking out for you.
If you would like to have a good relationship with your neighbor, explain to them that their behavior is making you feel uncomfortable and why. Most people will be understanding and try to change their ways.
2. Plant Some Privacy Greens
There are dozens of natural elements that you can place around the perimeter of your yard to increase your privacy. Greenery not only prohibits your neighbors from peeking into your yard, but it looks beautiful and can act as a natural sound barrier.
For your natural fence to be most effective as a privacy boundary, you should ensure that it is 6 to 8 feet tall or at least taller than your current fence. Before starting your project, consult your local bylaws or your Homeowner’s Association (HOA) regulations as some communities have restrictions on the height of trees or shrubs planted on the perimeter of a property similar to that of a fence.
● Hedge Row
And now that you’ve confirmed that there are no regulations prohibiting you from planting tall privacy hedges or trees, there’s nothing to stop you. But before you dig in, you may find the video below very helpful.
In this video, Kyle Hagerty from Urban Farmstead goes over all the steps and tips and tricks when planting hedges for privacy.
● Bamboo Screen
Another popular alternative for a natural privacy fence is planting a bamboo screen. For this project, you will need to buy several bamboo plants like timber bamboo.
It is best to buy 12-15 gallon bamboo plant containers. You will want your plants to be at least 7-8 feet tall at the time of planting, and you will need enough plants to have them spaced at least 5 feet apart along your fence line. So before you start, measure your fence line to determine how many plants you will need.
Once you have all your bamboo plants, line them up along your fence line at the predetermined spacing, then dig a hole for each plant that is two to three times the width of the pot. The hole should be the same depth as the container.
Once you have all the holes dug to the correct size, remove the plants from the containers and place them in the holes, then backfill the holes with the removed dirt mixed with your choice of compost and organic fertilizer. Then cover the soil around the base of the plants with two to three inches of mulch to help keep the soil moist.
Water each plant well, and keep them watered regularly for the first few months until they become established. With proper care, your bamboo screen will provide you with privacy for many years to come.
● Lattice With Vines
If you don’t want to create a natural privacy screen along the entire length of your existing fence or property line, or just prefer to boost the privacy in a smaller area, like around a patio or deck, then you can build a lattice privacy screen and plant climbing vines to cover it.
This project will require some basic carpentry skills as well as some patience while waiting for the vines to grow. You can follow the step-by-step instructions in this video where Chelsea, from Checking In With Chelsea, goes over how she built a lattice privacy screen for her friend Laura’s deck.
● Planters with Privacy Screen
Another option to create some privacy on your deck or at your favorite sitting location in your backyard is by putting up one or more privacy planters.
Privacy planters typically consist of large, rectangular planter boxes with an attached privacy screen. They can be placed next to a fence or other structure to obscure the view from the other side, or can be freestanding along the edge of your patio or deck.
Privacy planters can be made out of a variety of materials, including wood or vinyl. You can buy a ready-made privacy planter from amazon, set it up, fill the planter with potting soil and plant your favorite plants and vines, and enjoy your new private oasis.
And if you feel like doing a little DIY-ing, you can build your own privacy planter by following the instructions below. These instructions are for a 36″ x 12 3/4″ planter box with an 6′ privacy screen. You can adjust the dimensions to fit your needs.
For this project, you will need:
- Two 1×12 cedar boards each 36″ long ( planter box sides A),
- Two 1×12 cedar boards each 11 1/4″ long (planter box ends B),
- One 1×12 cedar board 34 1/2″ long (planter box base C),
- Two 1×4 cedar boards each 36″ long (skirt sides D),
- Two 1×4 cedar boards each 11 1/4″ long (skirt ends E),
- Two 2×3 each 11 1/4″ long (feet F),
- Two 2×3 cedar boards each 7′ long (vertical supports G)
- Eighteen 1×4 cedar each 36″ long (privacy slabs H)
- 1 1/2″ screws, 1/4″ plastic Handi-Shim spacers, Gorilla wood glue, clamps, and potting soil.
Follow these steps to build your privacy planter box:
- Attach the long 1×12 boards (sides A) to the short 1×12 (ends B) to make a rectangular planter box. Make sure the two short ends (B) are sandwiched by the long sides (A). Use 1 1/12″ screws to secure the sides. You can also apply wood glue to the ends to help with a more secure attachment, but don’t tighten the screws yet.
- Before tightening the screws in step (1), insert the 1×12 34 1/12″ base (C) at the bottom of the planter box. Make sure the sides and ends (A and B) are square on the base (C) then tighten the screws inserted in step (1) making sure the sides are square on the base at all times and that the base (C) is flush with the bottom ends of the sides and ends (A and B). Then use the same screws (1 1/12″) to secure the base (C) to the sides (A and B).
- Repeat the process in step (1) using the long 1×4 boards skirt sides (D) and the short skirt ends E to assemble the planter box skirt using 1 1/2″ screws. This time you can tighten the screws right away.
- Flip the planter box upside down then line two 2×3 11 1/4″ long feet (F) with the corners of the base (C) on the undersurface of the planter box. Apply wood glue to attach to the base making sure the feet are well lined with the corners of the base (C). Allow a few minutes for the glue to set then turn your planter box right side up. Now use 1 1/2″ screws to secure the feet to the base (C) through the top of the base (C) from the inside of the planter box.
- Now you can move on to attaching the skirt to the planter box. Flip the planter box upside down again and set the skirt on the bottom end of the planter box making sure the corners are well lined up. The skirt should fit snuggly around the feet (F). If you find it difficult to fit the skirt around the feet, you may loosen the screws on one side of the skirt to allow it to fit over the feet then re-tighten the screws once in place. Use 1 1/2″ screws to secure the skirt to the feet (F) of the planter box at the corners.
- Now you’re ready to put your privacy screen up. Using 1 1/2″ screws and wood glue, attach the two 2×3 7′ long vertical supports (G) to the back of the planter box 8″ from each end. Make sure they are equally spaced and parallel to each other along the whole length. Use a level to make sure they are straight and leveled before securing them to the planter box.
- Before adding the privacy slats (H), first, measure 8″ from each end of the back of the eighteen 1×4 cedar privacy slabs (H) and draw a vertical at these points (V).
- Next, starting at the top of the planter box, measure 1/2″ and draw a horizontal line (L) on the front of both vertical supports (G). Now line up the first privacy slab (H) with the horizontal lines (L) on the vertical supports (G) while also making sure the vertical lines (V) on the back of the slab are lined with the outside edges of the vertical supports (G). You can use clamps to hold the slabs in place while you ensure they are leveled using a level, then secure them to the vertical supports (G) with your 1 1/2″ screws.
- Now work your way up using 1/2″ spacers to create a 1/2″ space between each two privacy slabs. Align the next slab making sure the vertical lines (V) on the back are lined with the outside edges of the vertical supports (G) and that the slab is leveled. Use clamps to hold it in place, then secure it with screws.
- Repeat the process until all eighteen privacy slabs (H) are in place.
Now your build is complete! The final step is to stain your privacy planter and allow time for the stain to dry. Next, you’re ready to fill the planter box with potting soil, but before you do that drill 8 to 10 drainage holes in the base of the planter box (C) to allow water to drain.
You can now add your plants. For extra privacy, you may want to plant some fast-growing vines along the front of your privacy screen.
Enjoy your new privacy planter!
3. Use a Water Feature
While this will not block your neighbors’ view into your backyard, if you’re worried about your neighbors listening to your backyard activities and conversations, a water feature could be your solution.
Running water close to your border with the neighbor can drown out the sound from your property. Not only that, but a water feature brings an aesthetic value to your backyard, and the sound of the water is also calming and can create a relaxing backyard oasis for you and your family.
There are many different types of water features to choose from. If you’re not sure where to start, you may want to have a look at John Timberland water fountains. If you’re looking for a water feature that makes a statement, John Timberland has some beautiful options. From cascading waterfalls to serene wall fountains, there’s sure to be a water feature that catches your eye.
4. Call the Authorities
If you feel that your neighbors have severely encroached on your privacy or spying on you, and they are not cooperating with reasonable requests, then it might be time to get the authorities involved.
You can start by contacting your HOA if you have one. They may have regulations and a process to deal with these types of situations involving privacy concerns.
Another option is to seek mediation. This is where an unbiased third party meets with both you and your neighbor to help come to a resolution. This could be someone from a local community center or church, or you may even be able to find a mediator online.
If mediation does not work or is not an option, then you may need to consult an attorney. In some cases, it may be necessary to take legal action. An attorney can also help you to determine if there are any local ordinances or laws that have been violated.
You should always consult with an attorney before taking any legal action. As we discussed in our article on dealing with intrusive neighbors, if you’re considering taking legal action or speaking to the police, keeping a detailed record of all your neighbor’s behavior and any steps you’ve taken to handle the situation will be helpful.
Keep in mind, however, that going this route should be a last resort as it could damage your relationship with your neighbor. A peaceful solution will always be better in the long-term.
The Bottom Line
Neighbors peeking over your fence can be an unwelcome nuisance. Everyone wants to feel that they can enjoy life at their home with the assurance of privacy. If you notice neighbors giving you the Mike Ditka neighborly treatment, don’t react with aggression like Buck Weston. Be friendly, kind, and neighborly, and consider putting up a privacy boundary to regain your privacy.