How to deal with property disputes

Residential property disputes can be stressful and frustrating and can happen for all sorts of reasons. Boundary disputes can occur when two neighbours believe they have the right to a specific piece of land. Arguments can arise if one person puts a wall or a building on land which the other person thinks belongs to them, or when someone lets a tree or a hedge overgrow. There could be a disagreement about who is responsible for repairing a fence or trimming a hedge.

Sometimes people don’t take care of their gardens, allowing weeds to spread, which can cause damage to a neighbour’s property. Disagreements can also arise over property rights. For example, does someone have the right to access another person’s property in order to carry out essential maintenance and repairs?

If you’re having a property dispute with a neighbour, you are not alone. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, disagreements between neighbours are commonplace,[1] and Thames Valley Police list ‘property boundaries’ and ‘overgrowing trees and hedges’ as the most likely bones of contention.[2] A disagreement with a neighbour, however small, can fester over time, so it’s important to find a prompt and amicable solution wherever possible.

De-escalate disputes through good communication

The first step is to talk to your neighbour to try and find a peaceful solution to the problem. They may not even be aware they are doing something that is causing a nuisance until you bring it to their attention. Don’t approach your neighbour whilst you are feeling angry or irritated, wait until you have cooled down. Use friendly, non-confrontational language so you don’t put them on the defensive. Explain calmly and kindly how their actions are affecting you and listen carefully to their point-of-view.

If you have a boundary dispute, it’s important to realise that misunderstandings can occur because legal property boundaries are often unclear. Therefore, it is best to be willing to compromise and to shift away from the mindset that you are ‘in the right’. Land Registry title plans don’t normally show exactly where boundaries lie, and even pre-registration deeds (those that relate to before the property was registered with the Land Registry) can be inaccurate – see below.

By taking an open, honest, and fair approach to the discussion, you are more likely to reach a compromise that you’re both happy with and neither of you walk away feeling resentful. If you do successfully reach an agreement, it is sensible to formalise it in order to avoid disputes later. A solicitor can make a boundary agreement that sets out where the boundary is and who is responsible for maintaining boundary features like walls, fences or hedges. Agreeing on the contents of the boundary agreement can be a useful tool in and of itself to opening up the dialogue and ensuring all foreseeable issues are dealt with perhaps before they ever become an issue.

Check Land Registry title plans

Whilst Land Registry title plans can be used as a guide, they do not show the exact position of legal boundaries, only general land ownership. The starting point for determining a boundary should be the pre-registration title deeds, which might include documents such as abstracts of title, conveyances and transfers, as well as descriptions of the land that can help to establish the legal boundary position.

As well as considering the deeds, a legal boundary can be determined by considering ordnance survey plans, photographs and maps. The Land Registration Act 2002, sections 3, 4 and 60,[3] cover determining the position of a legal boundary. Once the boundary has been established, you can apply to the Land Registry to add the new information to the title register. The application will then be forwarded to adjoining household owners who can raise any objections. If objections are raised then the case will be referred to the Land Registry Adjudicator.[4]

If you have a dispute about your neighbour entering your land, you can find out about your property rights or ‘easements’ in the Land Registry title deeds. An easement states whether or not a neighbour can enter your land (whether they have right-of-way) for a specific purpose. If there is no mention of an easement in the title deed, this doesn’t necessarily mean one doesn’t exist. There are different types of easement, one of which is called a ‘Prescription’. A Prescription occurs when somebody has repeatedly and openly (without secrecy or force) entered a neighbour’s land for at least twenty years without their permission. To find out whether this is the case, it might be necessary to contact previous owners of your property.[5]

Engage a chartered surveyor if needed

If you cannot resolve a boundary dispute, you can engage the services of a chartered surveyor arbitrator. It is their role to collect evidence from which to form an impartial opinion about where the boundary lies.

Their expertise includes:

  • Knowledge of the accuracy and history of Ordnance Survey maps
  • The ability to understand deeds and to interpret the plans attached to them
  • An understanding of how the Land Registry operates
  • The ability to accurately measure a property using technical equipment
  • Expertise to analyse and compare aerial photographs, deeds, maps and plans
  • The ability to examine new evidence objectively even if it conflicts with their currently held opinion
  • The authority to act as an expert witness in court if necessary

An arbitrator’s decision is binding and final, although there are limited circumstances in which you can appeal to the court if you disagree.

Consider Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

When you are unable to resolve a property dispute with a neighbour, the next step to consider is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

ADR is an alternative to litigation. ‘Litigation’ is when you refer an issue to the court. ADR is a way of avoiding the court process, which can cost you thousands of pounds. In most cases property disputes do not qualify for Legal Aid. In addition, a court case can cause you a great deal of stress and completely ruin your relationship with your neighbour. So, if you want to continue to live in and enjoy the use of your property, then it is best to avoid ongoing conflict!

There are several different types of ADR, among the most common used approaches are negotiation and mediation.

Negotiation

This happens before any legal process starts. If you’ve been unsuccessful in negotiating with your neighbor, you can both engage the services of solicitors who can negotiate on your behalf. Even if the dispute isn’t resolved at this point, it helps to clarify your positions.

Mediation

A mediator will facilitate a face-to-face discussion between you and your neighbour, helping you to resolve the dispute yourselves. The benefits of mediation are that you are still in control of any decision made rather than leaving matters for a judge or arbitrator to decide. Our property lawyers are also experienced in facilitating mediation and can help you to open the lines of communication to reach an amicable solution. Should you eventually wish to take the case to court, a judge will often ‘stay’ proceedings (not hear a case) until mediation has been attempted first.

Get expert help

Insight Law are here to help you to resolve your property dispute as amicably as possible whilst fighting hard for the outcome you desire. We will keep you up-to-date throughout the process so you always know how your matter is progressing and we will always communicate without the legal jargon.

Property law can be complex. Whether you’re having a dispute over a right-of-way and need to understand your property rights or you are embroiled in a boundary dispute, we have the expertise you require. Contact our residential property solicitors in Bristol (0117 925 6257) or Cardiff (02920 093 600).

 

[1] Problem Neighbours, The most common neighbourhood disputes, http://www.problemneighbours.co.uk/common-neighbourhood-disputes.html

[2] Thames Valley Police, Disputes with neighbours, https://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/asb/asb/antisocial-behaviour/disputes-with-neighbours/

[3] Land Registration Act 2002, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/9/contents

[4] Gov.uk, Apply to the land registry tribunal, https://www.gov.uk/apply-land-registration-tribunal

[5] Gov.uk, Practice guide 52: easements claimed by prescription, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/easements-claimed-by-prescription/practice-guide-52-easements-claimed-by-prescription

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