Unfortunately, disputes between neighbours over the location of the boundary can be hard-fought and difficult to resolve. Boundary disputes relating to people’s homes can be particularly tough to settle; neither party wanting to be seen to “give up” part of their garden or land. Unfortunately, in cases like this, where both neighbours are digging their heels in, early settlement can be difficult, and cases often end up in court; by which time the dispute has also become lengthy and costly.
It is clear that changes need to be made to the way that boundary disputes are dealt; so that they can be dealt with quicker, while keeping costs to a minimum. Earlier this year, I wrote an article about proposed new legislation designed to do just that. Unfortunately, as yet, that Bill has gone no further.
In the meantime, the Property Litigation Association has published The Boundary Disputes Protocol (“the Protocol”).
The Boundary Disputes Protocol
The aim of the Protocol is to provide a structured dispute resolution process for residential or commercial neighbours. The intention is that the neighbours exchange information early, to “minimise the scope for disputes between them”; to enable disputes to be resolved, keeping costs to a minimum.
The Protocol does not form part of the Civil Procedure Rules and is not binding. It is up to the neighbours to agree to work to it.
The Protocol sets out guidance in a number of areas:
The neighbours should not interfere with any physical feature which might show the boundary. Likewise, they must not interfere with any land (or anything on the land) that the other neighbour claims is theirs.
Further, the neighbours should avoid doing anything that might worsen relations between them, or might increase costs unnecessarily.
Exchange of information
The protocol requires the neighbours to exchange relevant information early, and sets out time limits by which this should happen.
Appointment of professional advisers / negotiation
In order to keep down costs, the Protocol advises that neighbours involved in simple disputes should consider whether they can deal with the exchange of information without professional advice. However, the Protocol does note that some cases will be more complex (e.g. where adverse possession is a factor). In these cases, legal advice should be sought as soon as possible.
The neighbours should consider within 8 weeks of the Start Date (the date on which they have decided to use the Protocol), whether they would like to negotiate or mediate. If they do not, they will proceed with the next steps of the Protocol.
Surveyors and experts
The Protocol sets out examples where the neighbours may need an expert surveyor to assist them. It notes that in the more straightforward cases, it will be proportionate to instruct one expert between the neighbours (rather than one each).
Where the dispute involves a claim of adverse possession, the Protocol gives the neighbours further guidance. This includes the exchange of relevant documents and information on witnesses; and expert evidence.
After the above steps are taken, the Protocol requires the neighbours to meet to try to agree the boundary. If they can’t, the Protocol sets out the different forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution. As a last resort, the neighbours have the option of going to Court or Tribunal.
The final section of the Protocol sets out advice in relation to coming to an agreement on the boundary. The neighbours should be clear on what they are agreeing to, and should have a final written agreement. It is advised that this is registered at the Land Registry.
The Protocol sets out a clear and sensible approach for neighbours involved in boundary disputes. We are hopeful that this will result in neighbours being able to resolve their disputes in a more amicable and cost-effective manner.
If you find yourself involved in a boundary dispute with your neighbour, our property disputes team can assist. Call us today on 0800 988 7756 for a FREE initial consultation.