Land and property disputes are often time consuming and therefore can become very costly. Where neighbours are involved, such disputes can also be stressful and upsetting.
Quite often these land and property disputes arise over boundary issues and ownership of what sometimes amounts to no more than a few feet of land or perhaps a car parking space. Such disputes are more prevalent in rural areas and some experts believe that the reason for this has been the steady increase in the value of land and property over the last thirty years or more. The initial piece of advice when a dispute arises has always been the same: try by every means possible to resolve a land or property dispute before taking legal action. This is sound advice because legal costs today can quickly escalate to a higher cost than the value of, say, a piece of land might be worth. However, disputes with neighbours over boundaries, party walls, invasive trees, rights of way, and car parking spaces are all too common. Phil Spencer’s advice is: ‘By all means make every effort to settle a dispute with your neighbour or with a landowner in a cordial way if at all possible. Aim to do this before starting any legal action.’
See also: Help Plan Your Local Neighbourhood
Boundaries are one of the most common causes of disputes, with the disagreement often being exactly who is responsible for the maintenance of the boundary and also the precise position of a boundary is also often frequently in dispute. In both cases, your first reference should be to your property’s title deeds. If the document doesn’t clearly define the boundary, then your next step will be to call in an expert in boundary disputes.
The responsibility for maintenance or perhaps repairing damage to a boundary wall or fence will depend on whether the hedge, wall or fence is on your side of the boundary or on your neighbour’s side.
If it is on your side of the boundary, you will be responsible for the care and repair on both sides of the fence. If this boundary is in dispute, ideally, you may be able to reach agreement with your neighbour that you have a ‘party’ wall, fence or hedge, and each agrees to take responsibility for their section, each side of the boundary.
If it’s agreed that it is your neighbour who is responsible, you need to be aware that this gives your neighbour the right to do whatever they wish with the fence, even if you don’t like what is being done. To give a recent example of a positive outcome: two semi-detached properties were divided only by a 2-ft high wall. When new owners moved into one of the properties they found they couldn’t sit outside with any real privacy as they were overlooked by the neighbour. The new owners broached the topic in a friendly way with the neighbour, suggesting the erection of a 6-ft high fence along a short section of the wall nearest the house, the cost of which he, the new owner, would be responsible for. Happily, agreement was reached and there was benefit for both parties, with both enjoying the privacy they hadn’t had before. Had the new owners simply put up the fence without mentioning it to the neighbour, the response might have been very different.
Trees and gardens
Trees and screens of trees are another frequent cause of neighbour disputes. It’s estimated that there may be as many as 100,000 unresolved disputes relating to invasive trees and hedges—the main culprit being the fast-growing and notorious Leylandii cypress. These disputes can become very expensive. Phil’s advice is to ‘check out the property for invasive trees or shrubbery before you make a property purchase. This seems almost too obvious to say but there are plenty of people who have bought a property in their eagerness, thinking they will sort out the problem of the neighbour’s trees later.’
It is possible for your local council to intervene in, for example, a high hedge dispute but the requirement is that you must first try to resolve the issue informally with your neighbour. With this first step taken with no positive result, you can then request a complaint property form from your council.
The criteria for your complaint has to be based upon all of the following:
• There are two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs
• They are over 2 meters tall
• They affect your enjoyment of your home or garden because they are too tall
There are also many disputes about trees and shrubbery that block out light. If a neighbour’s hedge is blocking your light, you can prune it back but you can’t reduce its height without your neighbour’s agreement, or unless the council intervenes, as mentioned above.
• It’s always possible your neighbour will be amenable to your request, so start a friendly conversation to broach the topic that concerns you.
• Check out your property’s title deeds. If, for example, boundaries are clearly marked, any boundary dispute may be quickly resolved.
• If you’re able to reach an amicable agreement with your neighbour, aim to have a signed letter of agreement if possible.
• Your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau is a good first stop if you need general information about property disputes.
•There is often no knowing for how long a dispute will run, or this reason it’s vital that you keep records and documentation from the start.
• Your careful documentation of the dispute will be important if you do finally decide to take legal action.