In Britain, our homes and properties tend to be quite clearly defined. Fences, walls and hedges forming the boundaries between the majority of properties, making it clear where the boundary is and helping to minimise disputes over boundaries.
However, arguments do still happen, and when they do it’s often far more difficult to sort out than it might seem.
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Is there any legal obligation to put erected or maintain any barrier around my property?
In short, no. There is absolutely no obligation in law to form a physical boundary or have a fence around your property.
Laws of this sort only apply alongside railways, around disused mines, around building sites adjacent to highways or to pen livestock into a particular field.
This absence of any legal obligation can be particularly distressing if you have a neighbour who’s either let his fence rot away or has sections of it missing. In short, there’s nothing in the law that you can use to force him to repair it.
Having said that, if an injury or damage were to occur as a result of the damaged fence, he could be forced to pay extensive reparations.
Who owns that fence?
Ownership of fences is often a contentious issue for homeowners.
A vast number of people assume that you automatically own the fence on the left hand side of the house as you look at it from the street. This is not true.
The fact of the matter is that there is no clear rule. Unless your conveyance deeds show a specific marking which indicates ownership of a fence, the responsibility for the boundary is shared by the owners of the properties which the boundary separates.
Can I claim land as my own which I have fenced in and used for many years?
It is governed by the law of adverse possession – click here to read more about defending or claiming adverse possession of property or land
Which way should the smooth side of my fencing face?
This is just one of a number of simple but common misunderstandings which can lead to unnecessary disputes between neighbours.
Believing that that the smooth side of the fence should face the neighbour when being erected is yet another common misconception.
Again, there is no law or rule which states which way round a fence must face. In fact, whoever owns and builds the fence is free to choose the style, colour and direction of the fence as he sees fit.
What can I do to my neighbour’s fence?
A lot of people also assume that they are free to stain or paint their side of a fence, grow plants up it or attach ornaments.
Even if it’s on your side of the fence, if the fence belongs to your neighbour then you are not allowed to do anything to it without their permission. Even staining or painting your side of the fence without asking them amounts to criminal damage.
If the fence is owned by your neighbour and falls within the legal guidelines, there is nothing you can do about it.
Boundaries can become blurred when replacement fences are erected, and confusion can often arise. When it comes to owned land, residential homes and personal territories, people can easily become very defensive and protective over what they see as their land, and even the tiniest of land disputes can easily become overblown and far more dramatic than they actually are.
Often, it’s only a case of a few centimetres if a fence has been erected one side of a boundary line whereas the original fence was right on the boundary line. In cases like this, people often let principles cloud their better judgement and can easily spend tens of thousands of pounds and years in court to ‘reclaim’ a few centimetres of land which they probably weren’t using anyway.
But my neighbour has simply gone too far.
Having said that, there are some far more dramatic instances of boundary disputes and it is only natural for you to want to protect your property.
If you feel a neighbour is being unreasonable then you might, quite naturally, feel vulnerable and threatened. In this case, it is important that you seek legal advice as to the best way to move forward.
It may well be that your neighbour genuinely misunderstood and a letter of confirmation of the legal standpoint from a solicitor will urge him or her to rectify the issue. However, that’s not always the case and can sometimes cause people to become even more defensive.
Mediation and resolving disputes with neighbours
If direct negotiation, or even a letter from your solicitor doesn’t solve the problem, then the next step may well be to consider mediation.
Mediation allows both parties to have their say and to present their arguments in front of an independent trained mediator -whose job it is to find some common ground and try to seek a resolution which suits all parties.
Mediation doesn’t suit everyone doesn’t always work. However here at Bonallack and Bishop, our dispute resolution team are big fans of mediation – simply because it works
What’s more, even if you suspect that mediation won’t work in your particular circumstances, it is vital to consider mediation before in – because the judge will not look favourably upon you if you’ve not taken all possible measures to resolve the dispute before reaching court. And that includes trying mediation first.
What’s more in our experience, mediation is usually quicker, much cheaper and much less stressful than a court application
Going to court – it really is the last resort
The court process can be expensive and time consuming, and you may well find that you don’t get the result you wanted or expected. Mediation tends to allow some give and take on both sides, allowing both sides to make some concessions and come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
Court, on the other hand, may well result in the judge coming down heavily on one side, and that might not be your side. Maintaining a reasonable attitude throughout is vital to your chances of the dispute being resolved in a way which is satisfactory to you.
Our experience in this field will enable us to look at the situation with a fresh pair of eyes and to perhaps suggest options which you might not have thought of. We can also guide you through the legal process should you decide this is the best option in your specific circumstance.
Click here to read more about boundary disputes