How to deal with boundary disputes

Boundary disputes can be uncomfortable and the quicker you can move to resolve them, the better. In England and Wales, there is usually no record kept on the precise boundaries between properties. There is also usually no registered record of who owns, and is responsible for, hedges, trees, walls, fences or driveways between properties. This can only serve to add to existing tensions.

How to check which boundary features you are responsible for

The first place to look for more information would be in your title plan, though these tend to only show general boundaries. This information is taken from large-scale ordnance survey mapping, which is often generalised and doesn’t provide much detail on precise changes to the boundary line, such as from juts in the land or paved edges. You can request a copy of the title plan, title register on any filed deeds on your own property from the HM Land Registry. A good deed plan will tend to include more detail, such as measurements of boundaries, but these plans will still have to be interpreted.  

Figuring out what the issue is

A lack of information on boundary lines can cause disputes in themselves. If there is a precise boundary recorded but you think there’s a mistake, you can apply to get the title plan corrected; this will involve filling out the right application, explaining why you think there is a mistake and including any supporting evidence, such as certified copies of property deeds.

If your exact boundary line is not recorded, but you would like it to be, you can apply for a ‘determined boundary’ if your property is registered. In order to apply, you will need agreement from your neighbour if they’re the lawful proprietor, a plan showing the determined boundary from a chartered land surveyor, a completed exact line of boundary form and any additional evidence to support your application (such as certified copies of your property deeds, a written statement or an expert’s report).

Other issues that can cause boundary line disputes might be hedges and trees growing onto your property, old or damaged fencing, a change in ownership or neighbours who are renting, construction work or disagreements with Party Wall Awards (an agreement between adjoining neighbours over any structural work that will be carried out on shared walls).

Boundary issues may not always be the root of the issue, though. Living in close quarters with our neighbours can take a toll. Given our homes can be places of rest, family get-togethers or parties with friends, it’s inevitable that the way we want to enjoy our home might differ from how our neighbours want to use theirs at any given time. It’s generally these differences that can create tension in the form of noise complaints, anti-social behaviour or annoyance that your fresh washing is spoiled by Sunday barbecue smoke from the neighbour’s garden. The more you grit your teeth, the more you look to draw a line in the sand of what’s yours and what’s theirs.

Dispute resolution methods

Negotiating directly through an amicable discussion with your neighbour is a good way to start resolving a dispute. Another way is through an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), such as professional mediation by an experienced mediator or legal professional. If this doesn’t work. Another ADR option to consider could be arbitration, which is when an independent third party hears facts and comes to a decision that is often binding on one or both parties. There are a number of other ADR methods which a legal professional can help advise you on. If these methods aren’t working, litigation is often looked to as a last resort because it is costly, time consuming and you’ll often still need to live next to your neighbour as you’re going through the process, which can create a horrible atmosphere.

Seek legal help and formalise your agreement

If you do manage to come to an agreement with your neighbour regarding your boundary dispute, it is worthwhile formalising your agreement to help prevent any further disputes or disagreements down the line. You may choose an informal ‘handshake’ approach with your neighbour, however it is wise to consider seeking legal advice in order to legally protect what was agreed. To help formalise your arrangement, you can make a boundary agreement with your neighbour. This agreement can set out the exact boundary between two properties and record who is responsible for maintaining any boundary features, such as hedges, trees, fences, walls or other clear markers.

Ultimately, you want to continue to enjoy your home and the full space of your property. If you are having a boundary dispute and talking with your neighbour hasn’t helped, Insight Law’s property solicitors can help. Contact our residential property experts in Bristol (0117 925 6257) or Cardiff (02920 093 600).

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