Boundary Disputes – the important stuff

Boundary disputes are awful. They have the capacity to ruin your life and can drive some people to desperate measures. My advice is that they should be avoided at all costs. I know that sounds a bit daft coming from a lawyer but it really is the best advice you’ll get.

Why are they so bad? Well unless you live on a large country estate the chances are that you’ll come into regular contact with your neighbours – you will depend on each other for certain niceties – where you park your car, collecting balls off each others land, consideration for each other concerning noisy kids, loud music etc.

If you have a boundary dispute then all too often I’ve seen each of these areas become a battle ground, with each side using every available opportunity to wind up the other party. Your home should be a haven for you – somewhere you can relax. If someone is causing hassle that close to you then it can really get under your skin.

So my advice is that if you can feel a dispute brewing, then you need to STOP! Speak to the neighbours fairly and nicely – find out what their concerns are and tell them what your concerns are. If you can do this socially (over a drink or barbeque) then all the better. You don’t have to fall in love with them but if at all possible you really do want to get along with them.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with an example

My fence has blown down – what to do?
This is a classic example of how and why people are concerned about boundaries. People have different attitudes to blown down fences. Some people can’t wait to put it back up again – it irritates them that their garden look so messy with the fence panel missing; other people view it as a real pain in the backside – another boring job they’ll have to do when they’d rather be out playing football/walking the dog.

You need to speak to your neighbour, but it’s this first approach that can make or break the relationship.

Some examples that should hopefully work:-
“I’m not certain whose boundary it actually is but I’d be happy to sort it out – is that alright with you. If I do sort it out I’ll need to come round onto your land – is that OK?”

If you’d rather be playing football “I’m not sure whose boundary it is but I’m planning on putting it back up – I just can’t do it until next week – is that alright?”

Hopefully either of these approaches will start a dialogue where your neighbour offers to help, contribute towards the cost, or is just grateful that someone is sorting the problem out.

Contrast that with this:-

“Your fence has blown down – I know it’s your responsibility and I’d like to know when you’re going to repair it”

“The fence has blown down – it’s joint responsibility and I want half of the cost from you now – it’s going to cost £250 and I want £125”

“The fence has blown down – it’s joint responsibility… I reckon you should be able to do it for £20 so here’s a tenner – let me know when you’ve done it.”

“The fence has blown down – it belongs to me and I shall be coming onto your land to enforce my right to maintain it”

“The fence has blown down – it’s my boundary and it’s sat on your land – I demand you give it back”

“The fence has blown down – I know it’s your fault as I’ve seen you breathing out heavily in your back garden. I demand you repair it instantly. I’ve never liked you and your children smell.”

Each of these responses will usually get a defensive or even aggressive response from the neighbour – it may lead to them checking their own deeds, and could eventually lead to a needless dispute. The neighbour may actually have been pleased that you were going to sort out the fence (maybe he’d rather be walking his dog), but because you’ve got his back up he’s now going to try and take legal action to let him sort it himself!

Usually at this stage the phrase “I know my rights” is uttered by someone which is usually a sure sign that it’s all going pear-shaped.

It may seem stupid for a lawyer to be arguing against litigation, but to be honest these are not the sort of cases you generally want – both parties end up spending a lot in legal fees but generally won’t feel they’ve gained anything from the experience – they’ve not got value for money. It’s very rare that either one comes out of it as a happy client.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that neighbour disputes need to be declared when you come to sell your property, and failure to do so is potentially misrepresentation (for which you could be sued). There is a risk that revealing the neighbour dispute could at the very least hold up your conveyancing, and potentially could lose you a buyer. It’s far better to avoid the dispute in the first place.

So to summarise:-
1. You can check yourself at the Land Registry who is meant to maintain which boundary
2. Even though you may find this information it’s not necessarily 100% accurate – things can change over the years (boundaries being moved slightly), and in any event the plans that are used aren’t generally fantastically accurate themselves – they are usually to small to measure off with any accuracy
3. Regardless of the legal position, you need to find a workable solution with your neighbours – speak to them nicely and get them involved.