The need for man to fence in livestock has been around a long time, and Minnesota is no exception. Minnesota Statutes, Chapters 346 and 561, cover livestock fencing, and state that a landowner does not need to fence his land against the livestock of another landowner. The livestock owner is required to restrain his livestock from entering the land of another.
However, Minnesota Statute, Chapter 344, supplements the Common Law of 346 and 351. Chapter 344 covers “partition fencing,” and says the livestock owner is not the only one responsible for maintaining the fence that keeps livestock on his land and off his neighbors. A landowner who doesn’t have livestock may have to pay his neighbor to help put up that fence.
“When there’s adjoining land and one of the parties wants to have a fence erected, the other adjoining landowner has to pay for half. That’s the long and short of it,” said Bruce Kleven, President of Kleven Law in Minneapolis, and a lobbyist for the Minnesota Cattlemen and Minnesota Wheat Growers.
The obligation doesn’t stop when the fence is put up, either. “It says build and maintain in here (the statute),” said Kleven. “If we think that out, say 20 years go by and you have to paint it, the adjoining landowner would pay half the cost.”
Kleven has been involved in agriculture law for years, and said he thinks many farmers may not even know the law exists. “I think most farmers, if they want to put up a fence, they put up a fence, and they don’t even know they could charge the adjoining landowner for half the cost,” said Kleven. “Property law has been around a long time. It’s old. It’s mid-1800’s.”
“The law itself is a territorial law, which means it predates Minnesota statehood,” said Kleven. “When you look at the development of the law, it was put in out state code in 1858 when we hit state hood. There was an amendment in 1866, and then a couple more in the late 1800’s.”
“Since then, it’s been pretty quiet on Minnesota fencing law through most of the Twentieth Century,” said Kleven.
The only recent amendment to the law was applied in 1994. “The amendment said this law applies to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) like it does to everyone else,” said Kleven. “Elk farming was taking hold at that time. For clarity, I think they said if there’s an elk farm next to a piece of DNR property, this law applies to the DNR like it does to everybody else.”
“I don’t think we’ve had any bills attempting to change the fencing law at the Legislature since 2000 and ‘02,” said Bruce Kleven. “House and Senate members from the Otter Tail County area brought a bill forward, but it never really moved.” He said, “Then, in 2002, House and Senate members from Wright County brought the same issue, and it didn’t move either.”
“What they were trying to do is change the fence law because urban sprawl was beginning to cause conflicts between farmers and non-farmers,” said Bruce. “The non-farmers were moving out into the country and asking ‘why do I have to help pay for your fence?’”
Minnesota hasn’t seen a large number of fencing conflicts in recent years. “There was a court case in 2001 up in Lake of the Woods County,” said Bruce. “The case made it to the Court of Appeals in St. Paul, and the main question there was what kind of fence would be used instead of whether or not one was needed.”
“Some of why it’s so quiet is if you go back 100 years, we had more grazing, cattle, and prairie. Quite a bit of livestock has left the state, and we’re seeing more confinement and feedlot-type activity, so that may be some reasons why we haven’t see a lot of land use conflict,” said Kleven.
“Just think of the Dakotas. Miles and miles of fences, and we just don’t have that here.”
Kleven did find one exception to the state Statues. “The local Township Board, by resolution, may exempt adjoining landowners or occupants from this Statute when their land is less than 20 acres,” he said. “That can get into your suburban landowner who moves a couple miles out of town and only has five acres. They can take it to the town board and get an exemption.”