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Boundary disputes between neighbours - Your questions answered

View profile for Anna Curtis
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Property Litigation Q&A January 2022: Boundary disputes between neighbours.

Property Litigation specialist lawyer, Anna Curtis, provides advice on residential neighbour boundary disputes, why they arise, and what to do about them.

Boundary disputes between neighbours can cause years of misery and cost each party thousands in litigation fees, as well as leading to feelings of resentment towards your neighbours.

It is therefore important that prompt and proportionate action is taken at the outset of a dispute in a bid to avoid it escalating to that point.

Why do boundary disputes arise?

If you live in England or Wales, there is not usually an exact record of your boundary location.

The title plan from the Land Registry of each respective property will give the parties an indication of where their boundaries lie, however this is only a guide and not an exact measurement.

This can therefore lead to disputes between neighbours, especially after a property is sold and a new owner believes from the conveyancing process that their garden should be larger than it appears in reality.

How else can boundary disputes arise?

Boundary disputes also arise from ongoing maintenance of boundaries, such as replacing fences or building boundary walls, with arguments over encroachment across a previous boundary marker.

Boundary disputes also stem from one property owner deliberately encroaching across the boundary in a bid to enhance the square footage of their own property.

Related: How can I stop my neighbour using their house as an airbnb?

How are boundaries defined?

The most common boundary dispute arises when there has not previously been clear boundary determining markers, such as a wall or a strong fence.  

Boundaries are often defined by naturally occurring markers, such as tree stumps or hedges, which can be removed over time or change in their nature.

This can therefore lead to disputes when one party attempts to secure the boundary, perhaps with a fence due to a new pet or young children.

I believe that my existing boundary fence is in the wrong location – what can I do?

Any boundary dispute should start with open and honest communication between the parties.

We recommend that parties discuss their concerns with their neighbours initially in a bid to resolve the matter amicably and without incurring legal costs.

If this does not resolve the matter and it is clear that the parties have differing views, you have a number of options:

  1. You can instruct a Solicitor to write to your neighbour and try and resolve and settle the matter with them;
  2. If this is not productive and the respective stances have not changed, you will most likely need expert evidence, in the form of a boundary report from a suitably qualified boundary surveyor. You can then look to rely upon the findings of the report to settle the dispute;
  3. If the neighbour does not agree with the findings of the report, you may need to issue Court proceedings to get a formal binding boundary determination and judgment.

Is there an alternative to this?

Yes. In the alternative to the above, you can apply to a Tribunal for a formal determination of a boundary using supporting evidence.

However, please note that you may be liable for the legal costs incurred by your neighbour in the event they are successful.

We therefore recommend that you take legal advice before commencing a claim of this nature without representation.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) provide a boundary dispute resolution service in various stages and for fixed sums, which the parties can explore at the outset of a dispute.

I have a boundary dispute with my neighbour and we simply cannot agree on where the boundary should be. I believe that they have deliberately encroached across my land and stolen some of my garden – what can I do?

In this instance I would recommend seeking immediate legal advice. There is a limitation period in which claims of this nature can be commenced in Court and you do not want to be time-barred from making a claim.

What will a solicitor do to help me?

We will request to see copies of any land registry documents that you hold, including title plans, existing boundary reports and historical evidence such as photographic evidence and letters of support from other neighbours or previous property owners as to the historical boundary location/agreements previously reached as to its location.

We will then advise you as to where we believe the boundary should be and either write to your neighbour or commence formal Court litigation.

Are boundary disputes expensive?

This will depend on how cooperative your neighbour is. If early resolution can be reached, legal costs should be relatively low.

However, in the event that the instruction of an expert surveyor is needed and resulting Court proceedings are commenced, legal fees will almost certainly be in the thousands.

Therefore, cost considerations need to be carefully considered before commencing a claim, especially is the disputed land is minor in size and importance.

Where can I get specialist Property Litigation advice?

If you feel that you would benefit from advice on your boundary and a potential neighbour dispute relating to it, please feel free to contact the Property Litigation Department here at Frettens.

We offer a free initial appointment to all new clients. You can call us on 01202 499255.

We will be able to advise you on the appropriate way of proceeding, as well as represent you throughout negotiations and Court proceedings if necessary.

Anna Curtis would be happy to assist with enquiries of this nature.

The content of this article, blog or video is not intended as specific legal advice. For tailored assistance, please contact a member of our team.