Iowa Law Blog recently featured a post regarding the Iowa fence law found at Iowa Code Chapter 359A. That post discussed that although the fence law was historically enacted for agricultural purposes, the Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that its applicability extends to “serve the broader public good by mediating boundary, fence and trespass disputes.” Gravert v. Nebergall, 539 N.W.2d 184, 188 (Iowa 1995). The fence law could be used for urban purposes as well.
The fence law directs that the township trustees of the subject area will serve as “fence viewers,” a group that decides the outcome of a fence dispute between two neighbors. However, as unincorporated land is annexed by municipalities, that land is no longer part of the township, but instead part of the municipality. Thus, the township trustees no longer have jurisdiction over fence disputes.
Logically, under this scenario it would seem that the city council would become the “fence viewers” who would resolve the dispute between the neighbors. However, city councils traditionally serve a legislative function, and not a judicial one. Accordingly, it would seem that the Iowa District or small claims court would be the appropriate venue for these disputes.
Such result does not mesh with Iowa Code 359A or the Gravert decision of the Iowa Supreme Court. The Iowa legislature should review 359A to ensure that it still serves it purpose, and that there is a clear mechism for citizens to utilize it.