Boundary disputes – crossing the line28th August 2015 12:12 pm Leave your thoughts
Every year, neighbours find themselves falling out over boundary issues such as fences, tree branches, leylandii hedges and shared access to property. Fierce battles are often fought over just a few inches of land and can turn into prolonged and expensive legal disputes.
Under Section 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, owners of tall hedges can face fines of up to £1,000 if they fail to cut them down when ordered to do so by the council. However, this only applies to hedges when they reach more than 2m in height, are evergreen, block light, access or interfere with the neighbour’s reasonable enjoyment of their own property.
Overhanging tree branches and shrubs can cause problems. Common law allows those affected to remove anything overhanging their land and return it to their neighbour without committing trespass. The Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 stipulates that if you need access to a neighbour’s land in order to carry out work, if your neighbour refuses, a court order can be issued to give you access.
With shared driveways, the details surrounding use should be found in the title documents. Common law dictates that the driveway should be used reasonably. So if your neighbour parks his vehicle there for a long period of time preventing your access, then you could be entitled to seek an injunction and/or damages for substantial interference with your right of way over property which, technically, belongs to your neighbour.
Party walls, (walls shared with a neighbour) are another frequent source of disputes. You must seek your neighbour’s agreement before doing any work that will or, in certain circumstances, might affect it, such as building an extension or installing damp-proofing.
Drawing a line
Boundaries between neighbouring properties are very often not simple straight lines. If you want to establish the exact position of a legal boundary between two properties, you should start by consulting the Land Registry title plan and your title deeds. However, boundaries can be fluid, move over time, and be subject to interpretation. If the position cannot be clearly defined, the court can look at all the evidence – documents, plans, photographs, aerial views, and expert surveying and cartographic submissions. Then the Court can make an order determining where the legal boundary lies and in doing so can give the parties the peace of mind of bringing a dispute to an end once and for all.
Generally, as a property owner you are not required by law to erect and maintain any form of barrier between you and your neighbour. The exception to the general rule is where there is specific requirement in the lease or title documents, where the land is used for dangerous purposes (e.g. the storage of chemicals) or where a barrier is necessary to prevent animals from straying. Subject to certain exceptions, you don’t have to repair your barrier, but you could be taken to court if it causes damage or injury to others, even if they are trespassing on your land in the first place!
With boundary disputes, emotions and costs can run particularly high, making mediation and alternative dispute resolution attractive avenues. Litigation should be the last resort, but in some circumstances it is necessary in order to bring the dispute to a conclusion and allow both parties to move on. Kate Williams, the Head of Litigation at Colemans, specialises in property litigation including the issues referred to above. Kate also has good contacts with highly skilled and renowned specialist property barristers and local property professionals. Such professionals may be needed to act as expert witnesses if Court proceedings do become necessary, such as valuation experts, building and quantity surveyors.
For further advice on this article, contact Kate Williams on 01628 631051 or email her at email@example.com
This post was written by Colemans Solicitors LLP