Boundary disputes and how to resolve them
Boundary disputes arising between neighbours are very common and can escalate unreasonably, often resulting in unnecessary costs which can spiral out of control.
A boundary issue can often be used as a ‘weapon’ when neighbours have had a falling out over something. Further, people’s actions can sometimes be disproportinate to the size and value of the land in dispute. A minor dispute can therefore quickly escalate and before you know it, you are faced with, or rush into, legal action.
So, where do we draw the line?
Love thy neighbour
Of course, we cannot choose our neighbours. Nevertheless, many of us will have the same neighbours for many years. Therefore the common sense approach is to try and reach an agreement with your neighbour, in order to resolve the issue amicably.
Talk to your neighbour; face to face if you can, and make a note of anything that has been agreed. If you feel uncomfortable approaching them then write down your concerns and send it to your neighbour instead. Or perhaps get a mutual friend to contact them on your behalf.
More often than not, the best policy is to find a compromise in order to maintain a good relationship with your neighbour. For example, sharing the costs for maintaining a fence or replacing a fence panel. Remember that you are neighbours and have to live next door to one another. Reaching an amicable agreement will cause far less stress and certainly be a lot less costly as well.
Establishing the correct boundary and its positioning can be a minefield. These things are not always clear-cut, not to mention that boundary locations may vary over time. So where can we find evidence of where the true boundary lies and who owns the boundary structure (i.e. the fence, hedge or wall along the boundary).
Title plans or plans within the historic deeds may show general boundaries and some registers may also refer to the boundary in question. However not all titles/documents at the Land Registry provide the information you may be looking for. For example, the red line on the Land Registry title plan does not define the exact legal boundary. It merely gives an indication of the general location of the boundary. Further, not all title documents will indicate who has ownership of which wall or fence. You may find that looking at the title documents relating to your neighbour’s property may provide information not necessarily covered in yours.
There is also the availability of online resources such as Google Earth and Google Street View to assist with trying to obtain evidence.
Another option would be to appoint an expert surveyor to conduct a site visit and produce a report, giving their opinion on the correct boundary location. The surveyor will base this on the information they are given and what they observe on site.
Get some help
Sometimes discussions with your neighbour are not successful, and matters may reach an impasse between you. If this happens, there are various options for resolving the issue. We recommend seeking independent legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
A solicitor’s letter setting out the facts and possible implications if the matter was to escalate to Court often works to focus the parties’ minds. A solicitor will also advise you on the various methods of dispute resolution. For example, mediation can be a very successful method of resolving a boundary dispute. Court proceedings should be seen as a last resort and should be avoided wherever possible.