What is a Party Wall?
Party Walls are not always boundaries.
We all tend to assume that the fence or wall which surrounds our property is the boundary marker and that everything within it is ours. Unfortunately, that assumption is often wrong.
The boundaries are often physically represented by fences or walls, but the official legal boundary is marked on your title deeds, and even then it can be difficult to ascertain who actually owns the boundary marker.
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Our team handle Party Wall and Fence Boundary Disputes throughout both Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset and Dorset and nationwide from our offices in Salisbury, Fordingbridge Andover and Amesbury.
Which side of a wall or fence is my responsibility?
Normally you will be responsible for the fence on the right hand side of your property.
You may need to approach your neighbour over this. The deeds of your property will show this is the case if you need back up
The importance of title deeds
If your title deeds clearly show who owns the fence or wall on either side of the boundary, this is usually pretty conclusive way of settling any property dispute.
However, many boundaries are not clearly marked in this way in terms of ownership and disputes can easily arise as a result. One deciding factor can often be that walls tend to be far more permanent structures than fences, which can easily rot and need replacing after a few years. A wall which has been standing for many years may be seen as a far more definite boundary marker.
This is not always necessarily the case, though.
Are title deeds always correct?
It’s also important to remember that what is marked on the deeds is not necessarily gospel.
In many cases, if historical use and precedent can be proven, you might find that the ownership shown by the deeds is outdated and no longer valid. This is another reason why it is so important to establish boundaries and ownership as early as possible – so everybody is clear as to what the situation is. That way, disputes can be avoided before they even happen.
Are you in a dispute with your neighbour about a boundary wall or fence? Don’t leave it too long before taking advice and action
As a general rule, action will need to be taken over a boundary dispute within twelve years.
Although it’s a very complex issue, in many cases the law will call on established usage and what has been accepted to be the case historically. This is especially true when an exact boundary or ownership of a wall is not clearly shown on the Land Registry deeds or in any other documentary evidence.
The danger of “adverse possession”
Failing to act and letting a neighbour take control of a boundary wall, fence or other strip of land could result in them winning legal ownership of that land on the basis of what is known as “adverse possession”, but which is sometimes referred to as “squatting”.
Click here to read more about making or defending an adverse possession claim.
Who is responsible for maintaining a party wall?
The maintenance of walls can also easily cause disputes between homeowners, especially if there is a disagreement as to who is responsible for the upkeep of the wall.
Wall repairs can prove expensive, particularly if there’s a lot of work to be done – so establishing ownership and responsibility can be key.
Issues tend to arise when the dispute over ownership continues for a long time. Should a wall become so unstable that its condition causes injury or damage to a person or their property, the owner or personal responsible for the wall could find themselves liable for a very large legal bill, quite apart from the cost of building work.
This is just one reason why, if there’s a chance you could be responsible for a wall in a poor state of repair, establishing the facts once and for all is vital.
The Party Wall Act
In 1996, the Party Wall Act was brought in to minimise disputes.
It states that property owners must use a surveyor when carrying out work on or near a party wall. The Act is designed to protect both parties where a party wall is concerned, as well as anyone else who holds an interest in the properties.
The Act is mainly concerned with large structural changes to the party wall and its footings – so putting up shelves, carrying out of plastering work and the installation or repair of wiring and sockets, for example, aren’t affected.
The aim of the Act was to ensure that both parties were aware of imminent work and the potential adverse effects of it – with the intention of minimising disputes.
As is the ethos of the Party Wall Act, communication is key. The best way to avoid and resolve disputes is to speak reasonably to your neighbour about the issue and try to come to some sort of friendly agreement. This may not always be possible, though, particularly if your neighbour is unreasonable or feelings and tempers are running high.
Appointing a property dispute solicitor
If so, bringing in a solicitor with plenty of property dispute experience to review the situation is a good next step. This helps to make sure that everything is properly considered and documented before the situation gets out of hand – and that is properly aware of their legal position.
Our specialist property disputes solicitors will try to help the parties in coming to a friendly resolution which suits everybody – but sadly that is not always possible.
Your Party Wall Boundary Dispute – How we can help you
Our experienced property solicitors can advise you as to the best way to establish the ownership of and responsibility for the wall – which will help reduce the chances of extensive legal costs arising in the future.
It’s important in situations such as this to stick to the facts and try not to let emotion cloud your judgement. When a dispute happens over property and people’s homes, it’s easy to allow feelings to take over from rational though, and getting the right legal advice helps to keep the process grounded.
Your party wall boundary dispute – how mediation can help
If you can’t come to an agreed settlement, your solicitor will probably suggest mediation.
Mediation involves an independent mediator who will try to find some common ground between the two parties and help to reach an agreement between them. It is important that you do your utmost to settle the dispute at or before this stage, as the next step tends to be court – and this kind of litigation can prove very expensive, not to mention slow and stressful.
Resolving the dispute at court – the last resort
At court, the judge will want to see that you have taken all reasonable steps to avoid getting there in the first place.
You need to make it clear that an application to court was your last resort – because judges increasingly take a dim view of cases being brought in which could have been settled without the time and resources of the court being wasted.
If you are engaged in a dispute with a neighbour over a boundary wall dispute, call us today to speak to one of our expert property lawyers who will be able to advise you as to the best way to move forward and resolve your issue.