Check the ground rules to avoid boundary disputes with neighbours

May 18, 2022, By

Spring, warm weather and longer days see a surge in interest in garden works each year, and where householders improve and replace, boundary disputes with neighbours are sure to follow…

One recent long-running case saw an Essex couple fighting over six inches of disputed land ownership for eleven years, with costs predicted to be as high as £60,000.  The couple, Philip and Denise New, say they have had to remortgage their home to cover the costs after losing their case, the general rule being that “costs follow the event” i.e. the loser is generally ordered to pay the winner’s costs as well as their own.

The Dispute

The argument started after they replaced rotten fence panels: they say they used the original cement posts that had been there for 50 years, but their neighbours said the fence was in the wrong place and that the News were trespassing on their land.

Often, in these situations, the parties are emotionally involved, making settlement of the dispute more difficult.

Mediators and land professionals were called in, but the neighbours were unable to reach an agreement over the disputed land, with the case finally reaching the High Court.

We spoke to John Gorner, Consultant in our Dispute Resolution team, about this. He said:

This was an extreme example, but boundary disputes with neighbours have a tendency to become quickly inflamed and they often get out of hand. It is vital that advice is taken early on from a solicitor specialising in this type of case and who can give guidance on a cost-effective strategy. Many people do not realise that raising a dispute with a neighbour can blight a property by adversely affecting whether the property can then be mortgaged and/or sold. People often unwittingly take steps that result in their property being blighted to one degree or another. A home is usually a person’s most valuable asset and it is vital that professional advice and guidance is sought at the earliest opportunity.”

Boundary problems often arise because nobody knows who owns and is responsible for a fence, or the location may not be clear from Land Registry records. People often assume Land Registry plans are definitive. They are not; they are merely evidential and often need expert review by a specialist solicitor. Even with modern properties (and certainly with older properties) the ownership and responsibility for maintenance of boundary fences and structures is often unclear. In any event, arrangements may have been informally agreed upon between the relevant householders over the years and these can sometimes alter the legal position.

Locating original title deeds and plans or checking with the Land registry may be needed to inform the position. Often the instruction of a specialist boundary surveyor will be needed.

Thereafter a number of options will be considered, all of which have consequences and should not be taken without seeking specialist legal advice – the saleability and/or value of your home may be affected unless you proceed with great care!

Principles applied to boundary disputes

Here are some of the key principles considered during such disputes, which it can be helpful to know:

  • Registered title plans usually show general boundaries rather than the exact boundary line
  • Ordnance Survey (OS) plans are usually only a general guide to boundary features and should not be scaled up to delineate an exact boundary
  • Evidence of the parties’ subsequent conduct may be relevant and admissible if it reveals what the parties intended
  • Evidence of features after the date of the conveyance may be relevant
  • The boundary needs to be clear
  • Even if further research shows the boundary is clear, other evidence may show a different boundary as a result of adverse possession
  • Boundary agreements are usually oral, but can be implied
  • An informal boundary agreement need not be in writing as it demarcates an unclear boundary rather than an actually transferring an interest in land

Avoiding or managing boundary disputes with neighbours

Whatever stage you are at, whether you’re planning home improvements or are starting to have disagreements over the land around your house, it is strongly advised that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.

Our dispute resolution team is well versed in neighbour boundary disputes and will be happy to talk through your situation and see how we can help.

Contact us on 0161 969 3131 or fill in our contact form and one of the team will be in touch shortly.