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Boundary Disputes – A Neighbour’s Guide

Feb 24 2022 | Litigation

by Sophie Campbell-Adams

by Sophie Campbell-Adams

Head of Property Law

In this article

What causes boundary disputes?

Boundary disputes arise for a variety of reasons, including:

Technical and legal issues:

  • Changes in ownership of a property
  • A lack of evidence to confirm property boundaries
  • Lack of clarity or understanding in available legal documentation regarding property divides
  • Discrepancies in methods of mapping, such as ordinance survey vs title plans
  • Errors in conveyancing or by the Land Registry
  • Claims of adverse possession

Physical issues:

  • New extensions and building improvements
  • Property or land development
  • Repair or replacement of features such as fencing, pathways and hedges
  • Rights of way
  • Positions of pipes and drains
  • The changes of physical features over time – for example, overhanging foliage

Most commonly, boundary disputes start when a neighbour tries to build up to the boundary of their land. Aside from the obvious possibility of encroachment, some title deeds will include restrictive covenants stipulating that the owner promises not to obstruct the right to ‘air and light’ of a neighbouring property.

Exactly what this means can be open to interpretation – for example, does it mean the owner must not obstruct both air or light, but can obstruct one or the other? Or what constitutes an obstruction? Is it completely blocking light, or is blocking a certain proportion acceptable?

Examples of boundary disputes

Boundary dispute house extension
Boundary dispute trees
Boundary dispute fence
Remember...

You’ll need to record any changes made to a boundary if successfully disputed. This is done by submitting the new details to the Land Registry. The changes are legally binding under the Land Registration Act 2002 as a Boundary Agreement.

1. Can I remove my neighbour's fence?

Maybe but it will depend on who is responsible for the fence. You’ll need to check your title deed to confirm this.

If your neighbour is responsible for the fence then no, you are not allowed to tamper with it without permission and vice versa. If you think the fence sits on your land, consider asking a chartered surveyor to determine the boundary.

2. Can my neighbour build on our boundary wall?
In some cases, your neighbour does have some rights to your boundary wall if it is a party wall in legal terms, meaning that the boundary line must run through it. However, if the wall is entirely on your land, your neighbour won’t have the right to build on it.
3. Who's responsible for the garden fence?

Your title deed will mark the boundaries for which you’re responsible. This is normally denoted with a ‘T’. Any unmarked boundaries are the responsibility of neighbouring plots.

The title deed may dictate exactly what type of boundary structure is required, in which case it will normally outline what material the fence should be constructed from, how tall it is and how it should be maintained.

However, if no such clause exists, responsibility for a fence lies with whoever’s plot the fence sits on, provided a fence exists.

4. How long do I have to challenge a boundary issue?

If you notice a boundary issue, you should try to resolve it as quickly as you can. If you leave the issue for a long time, your neighbour may be able to lay claim to part of your land. This is known as adverse possession, but it’s fairly difficult to achieve.

Boundary disputes also become increasingly complicated to trace and decode over long periods. A case will likely be much easier to resolve if handled in a timely fashion.

5. Are there fence laws in the UK?

Not specifically, but there are planning restrictions that apply to fences. In most areas, if you want to build a garden fence taller than 2 metres, you will need planning permission.

When it comes to the state of a fence, there are also no laws that dictate what condition the fence needs to be kept in. However, there may be restrictive or positive covenants in a title deed that state how a fence must be kept.

Lastly, there is no such law that states the right-hand fence of a property is the owner’s to maintain. While this is often the case, only the boundaries marked with a ‘T’ in a property’s title plan belong to that property.

6. What's the 7-year boundary rule?

Many people believe in a mysterious 7-year boundary rule, thinking that if you possess a piece of land for 7 years, you’re entitled to apply for adverse possession over it. However, this is incorrect.

Broadly speaking, to adversely possess land, you must show you have maintained the land in question for a minimum of 12 years. While adverse possession claims do involve disputes over a boundary, they are very specific matters.

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