Boundary Disputes – How To Resolve Them

Most of us get on very well with our neighbours.  Mine are great.

But some will try to take a mile when they’re not even entitled to an inch.   

They’ll build an extension over your wall, or erect a  fence in your garden (see my article on that here).  That’s a trespass.

They’ll then argue that they’ve done nothing wrong because the boundary between your properties is where they say it is (and that they’ve therefore built on their land and not yours).

They might argue that the boundary line is where the Land Registry plan suggests it is.

Sadly, Land Registry plans, in all but a small number of cases, don’t actually show the position of boundary line between properties.  So neither of you can rely on them.

They’re subject to the “General Boundaries Rule”.  They’re for identification purposes only.   This is because they’re based on ordnance survey maps, which can’t be taken to provide any real degree of accuracy at all.

When you consider that the line on a Land Registry plan, once scaled up, could result in a boundary line that is up to half a metre wide on the ground, you start to understand why these plans can be useless.

If your neighbour is adamant that the boundary is where they say it is, and that their encroaching fence is perfectly lawful, and if you disagree, what you’re left with is a boundary dispute.

My advice to anyone who finds them self in this situation is to remain level headed and try to resolve it amicably, even if you can’t stand your neighbour.

I’ve seen too many boundary disputes destroy neighbourly relations.

If a friendly(ish) exchange doesn’t get the fence put back where it previously was, then you may need a bit of help to convince your neighbour to do that.

Nine times out of ten a solicitor’s letter should get the job done (provided it’s worded correctly).

If you do take advice you might also find that your neighbour’s interpretation of the position has some merit, and it might not be worth the time and cost of pursuing an argument at all.

If the dispute can’t be settled straightaway your solicitors will be able to advise you on the issues that are relevant to determining your boundary.

The starting point is the original conveyance that separated the land in the first place.  If it can be found the wording of this can be very helpful.

Other factors such as the physical features of the land may be relevant in determining where the physical boundary once lay.

The conduct of the parties over the years may also be relevant.  There might be an old agreement, or a course of dealing between you or previous owners that would suggest a particular route.

A claim for adverse possession may be an option for one of you – this is where a party acquires the ownership of another person’s land having possessed it exclusively for a long period of time.

You might have heard of this before – it’s often referred to as “squatters rights”, where the “squatting” neighbour acquires the right to register their neighbour’s land as their own.

In all cases that don’t settle straightaway I would recommend that a boundary report is prepared by a specialist land surveyor.  NOT a general surveyor.

A specialist boundary surveyor will be able to pull together all of the evidence to produce a detailed plan for you to rely on.  This can save you an awful lot of time and money in the long term.

On the other hand a plan prepared by someone who doesn’t have the requisite knowledge and equipment could cost you dearly.

With the benefit of that advice you’ll be best placed to negotiate with your neighbour, or force the removal of the trespassing fence.

If the first solicitor’s letter doesn’t do the job, a more formal “letter before action” should be sent to your neighbour to leave them in no doubt that you need the situation resolving.

Hopefully that will prompt a positive response.

If it doesn’t you should consider mediation before taking any further action.

Mediation is an informal, “closed”, process that allows you to try to negotiate a settlement with your neighbour without the need to go to court.

You can say and agree anything in a mediation.  It’s really flexible.  It could take place at your homes, and you don’t even need to see each other on the day if you don’t want to.

Mediation has an 80% success rate, or thereabouts, so it’s well worth it from a cost point of view, and also to help you and your neighbour to simply get on with your lives.

You’ll also be penalised by the court if you don’t try to mediate, or your neighbour will be if they refuse to agree to it.

Going to court for an order to determine the boundary line, and to have your neighbour’s trespassing fence removed should be a last resort.

If you’ve done everything correctly, it really shouldn’t come to that.

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Property Disputes Specialist

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Ian McEwan

Phone: 020 7842 1452