Legal Talk: Pushing the boundary on neighbour disputes

Everybody needs good neighbours… But sometimes there is little understanding and neighbours don’t in fact become good friends.

When moving into a house, you can’t choose who lives next door. In most cases, neighbours get on like a house on fire. But when issues over boundaries ignite, bridges can be burnt, and relations failed to be rekindled from the embers.

Most neighbour disputes are due to a fence, hedge or extension that is believed to be encroaching on one party’s land via the boundary. In reality, boundaries are just invisible lines between two properties that have the ability to create hostilities between seemingly pleasant people.

But what is a boundary in legal terms?

There are many myths surrounding boundaries that have no basis in law. For example, many people believe that when facing your property, the boundary to your left is yours. But this isn’t always true. Also, the Land Registry doesn’t establish your legal boundary and a T-mark doesn’t equate to ownership.

The only way to establish which boundary/ies are yours is to consult the title deeds which a conveyance or litigation disputes solicitor can help with.

What about fences and hedges?

Fences and hedges can become troublesome boundary features when it comes to maintenance because both parties may believe that they own their side and so are entitled to alter as it they wish.

In other cases, you may believe a fence or hedge is a shared responsibility yet your neighbour refuses to do their fair share of the upkeep. Sound familiar?

However, unless both neighbours specifically paid for the fence or planted the hedge together, then it is more likely that ownership lies with just one party. Who legally owns it will usually depend on whether the boundary feature is on your land and if you or a previous owner installed it.

If this fence or hedge belongs to your neighbour, then you do not have any legal rights to make alterations. Many people are unaware they are not permitted to even paint the side of the fence facing their property without permission. You should also never change, remove or add a divider without consulting your neighbour first.

But it’s blocking the light…

Unfortunately, you don’t have the right to light or a view in your garden. However, fences and hedges in the rear garden should be kept to a maximum of two metres tall so not to affect your neighbour’s reasonable enjoyment of their property.

What if a neighbour tries to claim the land is theirs?

Your neighbour is not allowed to build anything on your property without your permission. If you believe that your neighbour is encroaching on your land, whether through the planting and growth of a new plant or the erection of a fence or other boundary feature, then you can seek legal advice and have a boundary dispute solicitor ascertain on who’s property the land falls on and whether the boundary has been crossed.

More often than not, the encroachment is disproportionate to the value of the land. Dispute resolution can be costly if the case goes to court.

So how should you deal with neighbour disputes?

First and foremost, you should always try and resolve any disputes amicably. Talk to your neighbour politely about any disagreements you may have regarding a wall, fence or hedge. You may find writing them a letter easier than speaking face-to-face. If you would like to make any changes to a boundary feature that you don’t legally own, then you should always seek permission first to avoid any repercussions in the future.

Be reasonable, stick to the point at issue and know the legal position, just in case. Be prepared to compromise or share costs in order to keep the peace.

Should this not solve matters or you fail to reach a mutually beneficial resolution, there is a pre-action protocol you can follow, the Boundary Disputes Protocol, but which has no status in law.

If your neighbour is not co-operating with you during your boundary dispute then you can seek the help of a qualified land specialist solicitor to legally determine your boundaries and resolve your dispute.