Big Island

Fuzzy About Fences

Pictured home: 338 Nanaiakea St. Hilo

Your new, old house is just about ready for you. It’s a classic! You can’t wait to get started on the renovations. Your agent informed you that some things like termite inspections and surveys are normally the last things to be scheduled. You are relieved to hear the termite inspection is fine.

Survey Says…

The situation with the survey is less clear. Your agent explains that the survey map will show all improvements on the property, not just the boundary lines. You are surprised to learn the rock wall on the nasty neighbor’s side is smack dab on the property line. After all, that’s how walls and fences were built back in the day.

Truth is, walls and fences should always be located completely on one side or the other, but finding them otherwise is a fairly common problem. Sellers are not usually aware a problem exists until the survey is completed.

The Mini Mes? No, De Minimis!

Because it is so common, the State of Hawai`i enacted what is commonly referred to as the “De Minimis” encroachment statute. This law allows structure position discrepancies (encroachments) to exist up to .5 foot on residential properties. On agriculturally zoned properties, the distance can be .75 feet. In other words, as long as the rock wall on your grouchy neighbor’s side isn’t more than half a foot into your residential lot, then legally, it’s probably okay.

Range fences and hog wire fences are often installed where it’s most convenient. While the same rule technically applies to them, these are considered temporary in nature. It’s a good idea to formally address what will happen if the encroaching objects are destroyed or damaged. But, even when you think you are good to go, surprises can happen…and not good ones. Watch this.

Easements & Setbacks

Road widening easements are sometimes not even noted on the title report, or the entry is so small, it’s barely noticeable. Most aren’t even drawn on the TMK map. Guess what. Your building setback starts where that road widening setback begins. Thinking of building on the road side of your property? You may want to take the trip to the Planning Division to ensure there are no widening easements that will complicate your journey (Hint: beware if you are on lwalani St.)

Hot topics of this type often stem from recent situations. New subdivisions require a survey with new legal descriptions. Without a new survey/staking, it’s impossible to know if the recorded legal description matches the pins on the ground. Seems impossible, but it just happened!

So just like your home needs that all-vital termite inspection, surveys provide essential assurances in any transaction….and when it comes to fences, well, that’s an easy one. Just do as your mama always told you, “stay in your own yard!”

About the Author

Denise Nakanishi

Denise Nakanishi is a REALTOR Broker with Hawai'i Life. Denise Nakanishi is one of Hilo's most acclaimed real estate agents. She reached the rank of Major in the US Army and is now known by many as "Major Mom." The nickname fits–not only does Denise bring the discipline and mission-oriented attitude you'd expect, she's also caring and compassionate, always looking out for her clients like they're her own family. Having made the Big Island her home since 1987, Denise combines her extensive knowledge of the area with a sharp focus on customer service and the results speak for themselves. She's the recent recipient of the Best East Hawai`i, Best of Zillow, Chairman's Circle Award, President's Circle, Top Producing Agent since 2001, and Realtor of the Year awards. Denise stays ahead of the curve because she's passionate about education–she served as Education Chair for Hawaii Island REALTORS® for many years. She's one of Big Island's best real estate resources, known for her weekly article in the Hawaii Tribune Herald. Denise leads Team Nakanishi for Hawai`i Life, who is committed to their family, work, and community. In her little time away from work, Denise is a committed runner and Grandy. She also devotes many hours to various Veterans' Organizations, the East Hawaii Cultural Center, and the Hawaii Island REALTORS®. You can email me at or via phone at (808) 936-5100.

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