Boundary disputes with your neighbour can be extremely distressing and can destroy feelings of security at home. These disputes often involve relationships which have completely broken down, but where the people involved still have to live or work close to each other. Sadly, such disputes are also becoming more common.
Boundary dispute cases can be protracted and can prove very expensive if they end up at court. It is essential, therefore, that you get good legal advice at the outset from Solicitors who understand this complex area of law. You can rest assured that our solicitors have that experience, and can help you with a wide variety of cases ranging from relatively straightforward issues around overhanging trees and bushes to more complicated cases which involve determining the correct boundary line of your property or issues regarding trespass.
Caught up in a neighbour dispute? Looking for specialist legal advice. Call us on FREEPHONE 0800 1404544 or one of our four local office numbers for FREE initial phone advice – no strings attached.
Our solicitors deal with property disputes throughout Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset and Dorset from our offices in Salisbury, Fordingbridge Andover and Amesbury.
How we can help you
If you’re having a dispute with a neighbour over the boundary between your properties, it is important that you seek independent and experienced legal advice in order to determine your rights and resolve the dispute quickly and painlessly.
We can provide you with initial advice to see if you have a case worth pursuing. We may be able to suggest ways of seeking an acceptable outcome which you might otherwise not have considered. At times when personal feelings are running high and tempers are flared, it can be hugely beneficial to have the input from someone who is not only impartial and able to see the situation for what it is, but is also highly qualified in resolving exactly these types of dispute.
Subject to your instructions, we will try to resolve any issues by negotiation – without the need of expensive litigation. However, when there is no option but to go to Court, our experienced team can also fight your corner there.
Our team can help you with a full range of boundary and other land title disputes including:
- Adverse possession – Click here to read more about defending against or claiming adverse possession
- Fence disputes – Click here to find out more about fence boundary disputes
- Right of way issues Click here to read more about Rights of Way
- Neighbour’s tree problems
- Party wall disputes – Click here to find out more about party wall boundary disputes
- Problems regarding access to your neighbour’s property
Residential compared with commercial boundary disputes
Although the physical areas tend to be smaller, residential boundary disputes are far more common than agricultural or commercial ones. When people’s homes are involved, they tend to get far more driven by emotion. Their desire to seek what they view as justice can often override any sensible decisions and ways of moving forward. Often, when it comes to boundary disputes, the only way of settling the matter is in a court of law, but it’s always best to try and resolve disputes before they get that far.
Boundary disputes are complicated and resolving them can be quite protracted matters
Common types of boundary dispute
Some of the more common causes of these type of land disputes include:
• A neighbour moving his or her boundary marker — This might be a fence being erected in a different place to the one it replaced, a bush or hedge being planted on what you believe is your land or any other movement of something marking the boundary. If the boundary is clearly marked on the Land Registry papers and a neighbour has moved the boundary to increase the area of their land, you may have a strong legal case against them.
• The owner not maintaining their barrier — A barrier, such as a fence or hedge, should be maintained by its owner. There’s no legal obligation on the owner to repair it unless it causes injury or damage to another person or their property, in which case the owner will be liable for damages. It’s always a wise idea to maintain your barriers in order to keep good neighbourly relations and avoid any potential future litigation.
• A neighbour using your barrier for their own means — This could include your neighbour growing ivy against your wall or fence, hanging decorative ornaments on it or otherwise making use of a barrier that is owned by you. If you own the barrier, your neighbour has no right to use it for any means whatsoever other than marking the edge of their land. They cannot grow plants or hang ornaments on it without your express permission.
• Disagreements over rights of way — If one person has a historical or de facto right of way over someone else’s land to reach theirs, this could quite easily cause disagreements. The land owner might dispute the other person’s right of way, although access over someone else’s land does not affect their ownership nor imply ownership by the other party. Rights of way are often marked on Land Registry files, although someone can prove they have de facto right of way over your land if they have historically been accessing their property in this way for a certain amount of time.
Often, rights of way are recorded in writing or have become established over many years of use. Disputes can arise over whether the right of way exists in the first place, the route, who is permitted it or who is liable to maintain it, especially in situations where this is not stated explicitly in the title deeds to the property. The most common causes of disputes are common access paths and shared driveways.
There are many types of boundary disputes, including the modern trend to disagree over tall leylandii hedges. One neighbour may claim that their ‘right to light’ has been impeded and could insist that the hedges be trimmed or removed.
Even such a small disagreement can cause huge arguments, so ensuring that you’ve sought the advice of a qualified legal representative is vital to avoiding disharmony and unnecessary upset.
Our boundary dispute tips
- Prevention is, of course, always better than cure. If you are thinking of putting up a new fence or hedge, do try and have a chat with your neighbour first. This may well pre-empt any objection.
- In building any fence, make sure the fence posts are both completely on your land and on your side of the fence.
- In planting a new hedge, do try and plant it a minimum of 1.2 m inside your boundary line, which will make it much less likely to grow over your neighbour’s land. It’s also a good idea to try keeping any hedge to a maximum of 3 m high.
- I have fallen out with a neighbour – what should I do next? Try to resolve the problem amicably if possible whilst also recording and dating all incidents as this may need to be produced to court at some stage.
- If you are uncertain where your boundary line lies, the starting point is your title deeds which you can obtain at about £8 directly from the Land Registry at www.landreg.gov.uk. Please note that you can also get hold of a copy of anybody else’s title deeds for the same price – provided that their land is registered and they won’t be informed that you have got hold of a copy of those title deeds.
How do I find out the boundaries of my property?
The first step is usually to consult the Land Registry. A copy of your Land Registry title which documents boundaries and scale can be obtained inexpensively from the Land Registry. You are also advised to check the paperwork from your solicitors and request a copy of your purchase file from them if necessary, to ascertain if there are any historical deeds, a copy of which may also be obtained from your lender.
Land Registry plans – not always the answer!
The formation of the Land Registry in 1862 was designed to help define the boundaries of properties and provide some definition to the settlement of arguments regarding property boundaries. The key word here is ‘some’. Too many landowners rely on Land Registry plans for a definite answer, when in fact they’re really only a general guide to boundaries and positions. More often than not, boundary disputes nowadays arise not through any confusion over the limits of a boundary (as these can easily be determined from the deeds) but through a lack of consideration by one landowner over another.
What’s more, it may surprise you to find out that the confusion over boundaries can easily arise purely through Land Registry documents themselves. The lines used to draw the boundaries tend to be quite thick, and one pencil line can easily represent anything from a millimetre to many metres of space, so it’s perfectly reasonable to see how both sides can be adamant that a 60-centimetre strip of land resides on their property. As a result, the determination of boundaries is a complicated business carried out by an expert who will consider historical, photographic and witness evidence in order to determine where they believe the boundary to be.
And still not every piece of land is registered at the Land Registry. As at March 2016, 12% of the land in England and Wales, And probably more in rural areas, remained unregistered. In many cases when it comes to unregistered land, responsibility and ownership of a boundary is not determined by the title deeds. If it is, a ’T’ or ‘H’ mark will refer to the ownership of boundaries, but in many cases they are deemed to be jointly owned and responsibility lies with both sides. Because of this, a significant number of boundary disputes are situations in which one landowner feels their neighbour has built or trespassed on their land.
What is the Party Wall Act?
The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 provides a framework for preventing and resolving disputes in relation to party walls, boundary walls and excavations near neighbouring buildings. The Act also provides for both parties to appoint surveyors or a single agreed surveyor who will act impartially. They will draw up an award detailing the work to be done and the condition of buildings will be recorded, together with timetables for access and work.
Professional mediation may provide a solution
Here at Bonallack & Bishop, we are big fans of mediation as a swift and cost-effective way of solving a surprising number of disputes.
Even if the case should go to court, the judge will want to see that you have taken all reasonable steps to resolve the dispute and that going to court was your last resort. Simply filing the court papers before trying to reach a resolution will not result in the judge looking favourably on you.
The vast majority of disputes can be resolved by this stage, and a surprising amount of negotiation can be achieved during mediation. This will ensure the dispute is resolved without feelings of acrimony on either side.
Boundary Disputes – Getting the right legal advice from the outset
As with many other areas of law, if you’re going to get legal advice, do so as soon as possible, before the dispute gets out of control – and make sure that the advice you get is from a solicitor who really understands these kind of disputes.
That’s particularly important because the cost of resolving these cases through the Court system is sadly often far more than the financial value of the land which is under dispute.
If ownership can be determined early on, most disputes can be resolved relatively easily. Any ambiguity can be cleared up and the clear, legal facts laid out for both parties to see and respond to reasonably. If an agreement is still not forthcoming, mediation may be a sensible next step.
What is a general boundary?
A general boundary is a theoretical line defining the boundary of the property. However they are usually not particularly accurate. And bear in mind with the vast majority of land in England and Wales registered with the Land Registry, their record of boundary are usually based on something as simple as handwritten lines drawn in pen or pencil on relatively small maps. However they are often identified on the ground by a boundary fence, hedge or wall.
However these kind of general boundaries are sufficient for the vast majority of properties. And perfectly good enough for the Land Registry almost all of the time. However that sometimes there is a need for a more accurate delineation.
In particular, for example, if there has been a dispute over a boundary, a more accurate record of the agreed boundary might be required. There are 2 main ways of doing this –the boundary agreement and the determined boundary.
What is a ‘determined boundary’?
The term ‘determined boundary’ refers to a boundary whose exact position has been established by a professional surveyor.
Reference points (e.g. the corner of a building) should be near enough to the boundary points so that a layman with a simple tape measure can measure the distance.
A determined boundary is generally suitable for use in a residential setting –but it may be more difficult on farm or woodland.
What are Boundary agreements?
In short these are legal agreements between 2 or more owners of adjoining land setting out their agreement on the boundary between their respective properties.
There is no prescribed form for a written boundary agreement, and if the land is registered, there’s no particular format required by the Land Registry. It doesn’t even need a plan – words may be enough to identify the boundary in question.
However it always sensible, when drawing up a boundary agreement, to get one drafted by an experienced property solicitor.
And one tip – in general terms, the more accurate the plan with regard to showing the boundary, the more helpful that agreement is likely to be to the parties and anyone owning their respective properties in future.;
And if it’s felt necessary, application can be made to the Land Registry to note the boundary agreement on the Register – using form AP1
Boundary Disputes – the costs
The process of determining the outcome of a boundary dispute can be long, drawn out and expensive. As boundaries are notoriously difficult to determine, the costs can easily run into the tens of thousands, even for a small strip of land barely centimetres in width.
As each case needs to be taken on its own individual merits, timescales can often be protracted. For this reason, it is best to resolve the dispute as quickly and amicably as possible. If you can foresee a long and drawn-out dispute, it may be best to come to the quickest acceptable solution that both sides can live with.