Boundary Disputes – Your Questions Answered.
by Sophie Campbell-Adams
Head of Property Litigation
UK laws surrounding boundary disputes are not particularly clear, meaning tackling them alone can prove highly overwhelming. The FAQs listed below should hopefully give you a better understanding of what you can do when facing a boundary dispute.
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Q: How can I resolve a boundary dispute?
A: Disputes are not uncommon when trying to enter into a boundary agreement with a neighbour. A disagreement between neighbours must be reported in writing to HM Land Registration. There will be an opportunity for all parties to enter into negotiations to reach an agreement, but if this is not possible, the case will go to a tribunal.
A boundary dispute is unlikely to be resolved unless both parties are willing to compromise. To avoid a full-scale disagreement, it is wise to maintain friendly relations throughout the process as when boundary disputes get personal, they become far more challenging to resolve. Unless the land is worth a lot of money, the legal costs can begin to outweigh the actual value of the land disputed.
You may choose to appoint a chartered independent land surveyor jointly with your neighbour. They are experts in boundary disputes and could help you to reach a resolution should you agree to accept their decision. Included in their work, they will check deeds and the plans attached to them, survey the land, refer to historical documents and check aerial photography. They will then prepare a plan detailing your agreed boundary line to submit to the Land Registry as a Boundary Agreement.
Q: How much can a boundary dispute cost?
A: A boundary dispute can often cost a large amount of money, especially if it goes to a hearing or a tribunal. It is not uncommon for both sides of a boundary dispute to run up legal costs into the tens of thousands of pounds. Therefore we recommend that you aim to reach an amicable resolution to the dispute without the need for legal proceedings.
Q: Can I avoid a boundary dispute?
A: Boundary dispute resolution can be costly and time-consuming, and therefore it would be wise to avoid it occurring altogether.
Before you change anything, you should firmly establish where the boundary between your and your neighbour’s properties lie. You should also always talk through all of your planned work with your neighbour first, as even work that you don’t think will be an issue could be contentious. For example, if a hedge is replaced with a fence, this will create a more specific boundary which could cause a dispute.
Q: How to approach a boundary dispute regarding a wall or fence?
A: Firstly you’ll need to find out if the structure is on your property, your neighbour’s property, or if it’s on the boundary line and therefore shared. This information is found within the legal documents from when you purchased your home, which if you don’t already possess them, can be purchased from the Land Registry. You can also purchase the documents for your neighbour’s property which can provide any information that is not within yours.
Your title deeds will mark which boundaries you are responsible for. These boundaries will be marked with a ‘T’ facing inwards towards your plot. Unmarked boundaries are therefore the responsibility of neighbouring plots.
It’s always best to talk with your neighbour, to gain permission for any work you plan on conducting. Always try to find a compromise during these talks, in order to remain on good terms, and ensure that the entire process of settling the dispute is cheaper.
Q: How to approach a boundary dispute regarding a driveway?
A: If you are unsure of the location of your driveway boundary line, you can find the details within your property title deeds. You should then speak with or write to your neighbour to resolve the issue. Make sure to include any title deed covenants within your letter or email.
If you are unable to reach an agreement, you can enlist the services of a surveyor and solicitor. Your surveyor will submit a plan of the driveway to the Land Registry and provide you with legal advice. If they are unable to settle the disagreement, they will attempt to find an alternative dispute resolution. Failing this, it may end up in court.
Q: Who owns the boundary?
A: The rules as to which neighbour owns a particular boundary structure – such as a hedge, fence or wall – are not fixed or definite. The deeds may contain wording where one owner promises to maintain a boundary structure, but this does not necessarily mean that they own the wall or fence.
Deeds can often not contain information as to who owns a particular boundary. We would therefore recommend that you talk to or write to your neighbour before doing anything to a boundary structure between your properties, regardless of any information within the title deeds.
Q: How do I find out where a boundary line between mine and a neighbour’s property lies?
A: The plans of your property which indicates the boundary lines are usually in the Title Deeds. However, these will sometimes not give you an exact location. If you find yourself in a boundary dispute over boundary line locations, you may decide to consult a property litigation expert.
They will gather information and evidence on your case, such as:
- Information held by you or previous owners,
- Information held by your neighbours or the previous owners,
- Old conveyances,
- Previous planning applications,
- Photographic evidence,
- Evidence as to how long a boundary structure such as a hedge, fence or wall has been in existence.
Q: Do I need to instruct an expert to determine the boundary?
A: You may choose to instruct a surveyor to advise you if you are unable to reach an agreement with your neighbour. The surveyor will examine any available information along with any ground features. They can be appointed as an advisor by one party or by both neighbours jointly depending on the situation.
Successfully reaching an agreement on your boundary line, means you can record your boundary line information at the Land Registry, preventing any future boundary disputes. However, if you fail to reach an agreement, you may decide to commence court proceedings to find a remedy to your dispute.
These remedies can include but are not limited to:
- A declaration of where the boundary line is,
- Compensation for any trespass or damage by your neighbour,
- An injunction, such as requiring your neighbour to remove a fence they have erected within your boundary line.
I want to carry out structural work on my property which is located on a boundary line of a neighbour’s property. Do they have to agree to this?
I need access to my neighbour’s property to repair a fence, but my neighbour won’t allow me to. What can I do?
Can I cut down my neighbour’s tree branches if they overhang into my property?
Do I have to apply for planning permission to build an extension on my house?
Q: I want to carry out structural work on my property which is located on a boundary line of a neighbour’s property. Do they have to agree to this?
A: In this situation, the procedure detailed in the Party Wall Act 1996 legislation must be followed. If you do not adhere to this legislation, you may be fined, or have legal action taken against you by your neighbour.
For more information, read our latest blog on Party Walls or contact us today.
Q: I need access to my neighbour’s property to repair a fence, but my neighbour won’t allow me to. What can I do?
A: The title deeds to your property will usually contain information regarding whether you are permitted to access your neighbour’s land to carry out repairs. If there is no mention of this in the deeds, you will need to gain their permission.
If your neighbour refuses to give you permission, there may be implied rights to access, which your solicitor will be able to advise you on. You may also be able to take your neighbour to court to get an access order. This order will allow you to access their property to perform repairs on your own.
Q: Can I cut down my neighbour’s tree branches if they overhang into my property?
A: We would always advise that you gain permission before you attempt to cut back any tree branches that overhang the boundary line of your property. By speaking with your neighbour about the issue they may agree to do it themself, reducing the potential of a dispute.
If you do decide to cut back the branches yourself, you should ensure that:
- The tree is not subject to a preservation order,
- You are careful in determining the location of the boundary line,
- You give the owner any branches or fruit removed or dispose of them with the owner’s consent.
Q: Do I have to apply for planning permission to build an extension on my house?
A: Information on the necessary planning permission required for building an extension will be available from your Local Council’s planning department. Certain types of extension do not require planning permission, with this dependent on the size and location. You should contact your Local Council for advice before you begin building.