Fences and Retaining Walls

The Fencing Act 1978 sets out the obligations and rights of land owners, and the Building Act 2005, Local Government Act 1974 and Council District Plans (under the Resource Management Act 1991) control

  • The height
  • Safety
  • In certain situations the set-back
  • Landscaping
  • Construction materials of fences.

In general:

  • All boundary fences must be ON the boundary lines.
  • A Building Consent is required for any fence greater than 2.5 metres in height from supporting ground level.
  • Adjoining owners share the cost of putting up or repairing a fence to an adequate standard (note – this provision does not apply to fences on road boundaries). However, if one owner has damaged the fence then the cost of repairs will fall on that owner.
  • You can only obtain a compulsory contribution to the cost of fencing from your neighbour if a Fencing Notice is served on the adjoining owners (and procedures followed) under the Fencing Act 1978. This is a civil matter so please see your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
  • Under the Property Law Act 1952, section 129C an occupier of a residential property may apply to the District Court for an order to remove or alter a fence when the fence is detrimentally affecting the neighbour’s land or causing any undue obstruction of a view. Generally speaking, the cost of any removal would fall on the applicant.
  • The Council may contribute to a shared boundary fence on such places as Council parks, reserves or car parks. Please contact the Parks & Gardens Unit of your local Council for these policies.

All disputes concerning fences can be dealt with by the District Court, but obviously, it is better to reach an agreement if you can. A lawyer or advisor at a Community Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau can advise you of your rights and obligations.

While an existing fence gives an indication of where a boundary is, it is not always a true alignment of the actual boundary. To confirm the location of the boundaries refer to the property’s Certificate of Title (COT) and the DPS, as they contain information about the location and dimensions of boundaries. Both of these documents can be ordered from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). If you are unable to find the boundary pegs from references on these documents, then the services of a registered surveyor may be required at your own cost. If you do find any survey pegs, ensure that you do not move them.

Swimming pool fencing, including other fences that form part of a swimming pool fence (e.g. a boundary fence or the wall of a building), must comply with the Building Act 2004 and Building Code Clause F9. For more information about swimming pool fences please see the Swimming Pools Fencing.

Depending on the scale and nature of your proposed earthworks and the height and location of your proposed retaining wall, you may require Building Consent and/or a Resource Consent. Please consult with the Building and Planning Unit of your local Council before proceeding.

Is a Building Consent Required?

A Building Consent is NOT required for:

  • Building work in connection with a retaining wall that—
    • (a) Retains not more than 1.5 metres depth of ground; (i.e. It is 1.5m or less in height) AND
    • (b) Does not support any surcharge or any load additional to a load of that ground (e.g. parking, driveways, swimming pools, buildings, the sloping ground above the retaining wall, or other retaining walls above this retaining wall).
  • The Building work in connection with a retaining wall in a rural zone where the design is carried out or reviewed by a chartered professional engineer, if—
    • (a) The wall retains not more than 3 metres depth of ground; AND
    • (b) The distance between the wall and any legal boundary or existing building is at least the height of the wall.

Rural zone means any zone or area (other than a rural residential area) that, in the district plan of the territorial authority (Council) in whose district the building work is to be undertaken, is described as a rural zone, rural resource area, or rural environment, or by words of similar meaning.

If a building consent is required, consult a chartered professional engineer to design the wall and provide the necessary documents, information, and calculations required for a building consent application. A Building Consent must be obtained BEFORE construction begins.

Even retaining walls which do not require a Building Consent must comply with the requirements of the Building Code and District Plan bylaws. Always ensure there are soakage drains behind any proposed retaining wall. 

NOTE: If you add a fence on top of the retaining wall, check whether or not a building consent is needed for the overall height of the retaining wall plus fence.

Is a Resource Consent Required?

Each Council in the Waikato Building Consent Group has specific rules pertaining to fences (e.g. fence heights, colours, placement, and zoning) within the District Plan. Please contact the Planning Unit of your local Council for this information.

The following require a Resource Consent BEFORE you build:

  • Any fence, hoarding, or wall over 2.5 metres in height, regardless of construction materials.
  • Any retaining wall that supports a depth of ground of more than 1.5 metres deep or that supports any additional load such as buildings or the weight of vehicles.
  • Any fence on top of, or a part of, a retaining wall. If the whole is over 2 metres, but less than 3 metres, you will also need your neighbour’s consent. If the overall height is greater than 3 metres, the fence / retaining wall may encroach on residential heights. Resource Consent will be needed, please see the Planning Unit of your local Council.