Information on Boundary Disputes
Common neighbour disputes
Access to a neighbour’s land for repairs
If you want to carry out repairs to property or land you may need to have access to your neighbouring property or land in order to carry out these repairs.
There may be a right of entry specifically for the purposes of inspection or repair in the property’s legal documents. If there is no such right, or no agreement can be reached, the law allows you as the person wishing to carry out repairs to apply to the county court for an access order allowing you to enter your neighbour’s land to carry out the repairs. There is a fee for the application.
If you wish to apply for an access order you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a lawyer or a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Amenities which are shared
Who is responsible?
There may be amenities shared between two or more properties, for example, drains and pipes, shared drives or the roof of a block of flats. Responsibility for maintaining them and rights to use them, for example, putting up an aerial on a shared chimney, are usually outlined in the property’s legal documents.
The legal documents may give you as a property owner rights over your neighbour’s property. Sometimes they are not included in the legal documents but have arisen out of long, continuous and unchallenged use (usually 20 years). A right to use, for example, a pipe through a neighbour’s property implies a right to go on that neighbour’s property to undertake repairs, although any damage incurred to that property must be made good. If access is refused, an application can be made to a county court for an access order - see above.
Where there is a shared amenity which is in need of repair the first step is to find out who is responsible for repairs. However, the legal documents may not always provide clear evidence and, in this case, it is probably best to settle in advance that the costs will be shared between owners.
The next stage will probably be to get a surveyor or architect to inspect and report on the part of the property requiring repairs. Estimates will have to be sought and finally a contract made with builders. It is essential that at each stage when a cost is incurred the household initiating the repairs has the consent of the other parties responsible.
If some or all of the property involved is rented, the landlord may be liable for repairs.
Boundaries, fences and walls
Establishing the boundaries and ownership
If a dispute arises between neighbours about the boundary between their properties, it will be necessary to establish who owns the disputed land. The primary evidence will be contained in the legal documents. Clear evidence of this kind is normally conclusive.
However, the boundaries between properties can differ from those described in the title documents or lease in certain circumstances. The most common are where they have been changed by agreement or by encroachment (occupation without permission).
For more information about boundary disputes, see the website of RICS at: Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. RICS also operates a boundary disputes helpline. They can put you in touch with a chartered surveyor who can give you 30 minutes free advice. The helpline number is: 0870 333 1600.
If you think that the boundaries are not defined in the title document or lease, or that the boundaries have been changed by agreement or encroachment, you will probably need to get legal advice from a solicitor.
Duty to erect a barrier
Generally, as a property owner you do not have to erect and maintain any type of barrier, for example, a fence, wall, trellis or railing, around your property. Some of the exceptions include where:-
• there is a clause in the title documents or lease
• the property is next to a street and may cause danger
• the land is used for dangerous purposes, for example, storing chemicals
• a barrier is necessary to prevent animals, other than domestic pets, from straying.
Who can use or repair a barrier
In order to decide who can use and repair a barrier, it is first necessary to establish who owns it. The rules for working out ownership are the same as for other boundaries. In other words, the legal documents may specify who owns the fence, or you may have evidence that it belongs to you.
If the barrier belongs to one owner, they can use it as they wish, without the neighbour’s consent, providing it is safe. The neighbour has no rights over the barrier. For example, they could not use it to support trailing plants without the owner’s permission. If a fence is jointly owned, each neighbour can use it for support, provided neither makes it unsafe. Any repairs should be financed jointly.
As a property owner you do not have to repair your barrier unless the title documents or lease contains such obligations. However, if the barrier causes damage or injury, your neighbour could take you to court for compensation.
If as a property owner you have a barrier next to the street, this should be kept in good repair to prevent it becoming a nuisance or danger to people using the street. If a passer-by is injured by the barrier, for example, if it has barbed wire, or falls down on someone in the street, that person can take you to court for compensation.
There are special rules covering structural work to walls which stand across the boundary of land belonging to different owners, or which are used by two or more owners to separate buildings. The owner must notify neighbours about any work they intend to carry out. These rules allow for the agreement or objection to any work within certain time limits, and compensation and temporary protection for buildings and property. If there is no agreement an independent surveyor can be appointed to decide what work can be done, and how and when. For more information about party walls, see the website of RICS at: www.rics.org. RICS also operate a party walls helpline. They can put you in touch with a chartered surveyor who can give you 30 minutes free advice. The helpline number is: 0870 333 1600.
Planning restrictions on barriers
Planning permission is not generally needed before erecting a fence or wall, provided it is no more than one metre in height if next to a highway, or two metres elsewhere. If you wish to exceed these limits, you will need to get planning permission from the local authority. There are no planning restrictions on the height of hedges.
The starting point is always your title deeds. If your house has been built on a new estate, then it is likely that there will be a reasonable scale plan showing the garden boundaries. You should always ask your solicitor or conveyancer for a copy of your boundary plan. A copy of the plan registered at Land Registry can be obtained, although it will only be of a scale of 1 to 1250, unless there is a plan from the transfer when the land was first sold.
Helpful websites are;
Citizens Advice Bureau
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors