Boundary disputes are some of the more contentious disputes with which our litigation department deals. When we are approached by prospective clients, it is not uncommon for the parties to be entrenched, usually metaphorically, but sometimes literally, in their positions. This happens regularly where the boundaries are in relation to residential properties. Often these disputes are not only about the boundaries, but encompass wider ongoing problems and quarrels between neighbouring parties, which then manifest themselves in the form of a boundary dispute.
Where parties are unable to settle a dispute either personally, by Alternative Dispute Resolution, or through pre-action correspondence (between solicitors or otherwise) then the matter will typically end up with either the County Court, the First Tier Tribunal, or both. Judges in both settings have different powers, which can sometimes lead to proceedings being run concurrently in both. Unsurprisingly this leads to costs increasing and is best avoided if possible.
The Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill
The Government is currently in the process of reviewing whether there is a better way to deal with boundary disputes. The Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill (“the Bill”) is currently at the Committee Stage in the House of Lords and debate is ongoing as to how best to deal with boundary disputes.
The Bill in its current form proposes that the majority of boundary disputes can be resolved by looking at the physical features on the ground and deciding from there where the boundary lies. The owner who wishes to establish the boundary commences the process by serving a notice on the adjoining owner. If the neighbour does not consent to the position in the notice, a surveyor will resolve the matter. The surveyor will determine where the boundary lies and which party should pay the costs of the dispute. The surveyor’s decision will be conclusive. However the parties have a right to appeal to the High Court within 28 days of the surveyor’s decision.
Will it work?
While some surveyors might consider the impact of evidence such as historical photographs, transfers and plans and issues such as adverse possession, many will not. If parties are compelled to use the proposed system it may add further complexity (and potentially unnecessary costs) to matters; inevitably a portion of decisions made by surveyors will need to be appealed to the High Court. What the Bill puts forward is, in essence, an expert’s determination of the matter. We shall see how the Bill progresses through the remaining House of Lords stages and then the House of Commons. Transcripts of the debates in respect of the Bill can be seen here.
If you would like to discuss a potential boundary dispute, call our litigation department to discuss.