Boundary Disputes - Communication is key

Covid-19 has meant that many people are spending more time at home than ever before, which means that the amount of DIY we’re doing has gone through the roof!

Unfortunately, this also means that we’ve seen an increased number of instances where relationships between neighbours are becoming strained as a result of perceived property infringements such as erecting a fence, pruning hedges, growing overhanging plants or even just agreeing where the boundary between two neighbouring properties lies.

We’re hearing about more “neighbours from hell” than ever before and there is a direct correlation between the number of these cases we’re handling and the time we’ve spent in lockdown or working from home due to Covid. Small arguments can easily escalate into a legal dispute and finding a resolution can very quickly end up costing you a lot of time and money.

What do neighbours argue over?

Neighbours can dispute over things such as the location of fences, the boundary line between properties, a right of way, accusations of trespassing, encroachment, disputes over hedges/trees and even nuisance claims like parking and/or noise complaints.

How to determine the boundary?

The first step is to check your Title Deeds and Plans and obtain any information you can from the Land Registry. This will provide you with a better idea of who the rightful owner of the land is but please be aware that this will not be 100% conclusive, so this information alone is not always enough to settle a dispute.

This is why communication becomes key. A civilised, open discussion with a neighbour is always the best first step towards reaching an agreement and will feel better (and cost a lot less) than having the same conversation in a court room. Many legal battles between neighbours can take several years and will regularly rack up unnecessary legal fees.

Sadly, not all disputes will be sorted through amicable means and if you are finding it difficult to communicate with your neighbour or find a resolution that you’re both happy with then it is well worth requesting support from a Solicitor or a Surveyor, depending on the nature of the dispute.

How to avoid a dispute?

The most effective way to avoid a dispute happening in the first instance is to firmly establish the boundaries of the land before undertaking any work. It is always best to be cautious and check as any work undertaken can lead to issues arising if you are not careful. You should not make any changes or insert any boundary dividers whether this being a fence/wall without checking with your neighbours and checking your documentation to make sure it is definitely your land!

Process to resolve a dispute?

If you are unable to resolve matters amicably with your neighbour, you may need to instruct a Solicitor to act on your behalf in order to identify and resolve the issue(s). If a boundary dispute already exists then most likely you will need to seek advice from a Surveyor who specialises in boundary disputes.

Instructing a Surveyor to establish the boundary maybe enough, but in some cases it won’t be as your Surveyor may find it is not clearly defined or your neighbour may not agree with your Surveyor and hires their own. If no agreement can be reached between you and your neighbour then your options most likely will be to either go to court or to leave the matter unresolved.

How long will it take?

How long is a piece of string?! Resolving boundary disputes can take a couple of months or even years. This all depends on the nature of the issue(s), how amicable and reasonable you and your neighbours can be and whether you are willing to discuss, negotiate or even resolve matters through Mediation.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a flexible and a confidential process used to settle disputes between parties which involves appointing a Mediator, who is an independent and an impartial third party. You can mediate before taking legal action or whilst legal action is ongoing.

Should I resolve a dispute through Mediation?

Whenever possible, yes! As Solicitors we advise our clients about Mediation and the prospect of entering into Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or Mediation. If you have not already attempted it before you enter into Court proceedings, you can expect the Judge at some stage to recommend that you and your neighbour consider Mediation. The Court will expect parties to try and resolve matters before litigating.

Mediation is not a sign of weakness – it is a sign that you are willing to attempt to find an amicable resolution that saves both parties time, money and the stresses of a court battle.

It is important to note if you do not try Mediation and simply proceed down the route of legal action then the Court can make significant Costs Orders disallowing costs if parties do not attempt Mediation.

Can I recover all my legal costs?

Unfortunately, the answer is most likely: no. Which is why it is very important to try and avoid litigation at all costs. Litigation carries a real risk that you may not win your court case or get your way, which can then be very time consuming and costly. Costs can increase in boundary disputes very quickly which means you may have a nasty surprise once you begin litigation if there are any complications during the course of the case.

If the matter has become very personal for you, you may even say “I am not bothered about the costs; it is a matter of principle.” We all feel strongly about certain issues from time to time but it is worth noting whilst the usual rule in litigation is that the losing party pays the winning party’s costs, a Judge may not award costs at all. So, ask yourself before litigtating whether you would be satisfied with an outcome where the losing party doesn’t pay your costs, the outcome doesn’t go in your favour and you are left with a fractured relationship with your neighbour.

On the other hand, if you are successful, you can expect to recover costs reasonably incurred however if the Judge feels you have behaved unreasonably, they can impose cost sanctions on you.

If you require any advice or need assistance in resolving a boundary dispute before it gets out of hand please contact Mrs Lakhvir Bassi at Talbots Law – or call 0800 118 1500