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How to deal with a boundary dispute

Warm weather and longer days see a surge in garden maintenance every year, and where householders improve and replace fencing, boundary disputes are sure to follow…

One recent long-running case saw an Essex couple fighting over six inches of disputed land ownership for eleven years, with costs predicted to be as high as £60,000.  The couple, Philip and Denise New, say they have had to remortgage their home to cover the legal action after losing their case. 

The argument started after they replaced rotten fence panels: they say they used the original cement posts that had been there for 50 years, but their neighbours said the fence was in the wrong place and that the News were trespassing on their private property.

Adam Tankard, boundary dispute and property law Solicitor commented: “This was an extreme example, but a boundary line dispute can have a tendency to inflame neighbour relationships.

“The best way is to try and avoid arguments arising in the first place and the best approach is to have a quiet chat with neighbours before you do the work. If that highlights a difference of opinion and you can’t resolve things, then staying civil is important. You still have to live next door to each other and even if you think a house move may be a solution, remember you have to declare any disputes when you come to sell a property to potential buyers these days.” 

Boundary dispute cases often arise because nobody knows who owns and is responsible for a fence or the location may not be clear from Land Registry title plan records. While modern housing will clearly state who owns which boundary feature, or whether it is a party fence, it is not always clear with older properties. Locating original title deeds via a title search or checking with the local authority may help to recover old documents but if no documentary evidence is available, then more work will be needed to get a definitive answer on where the property boundary is.

There are different options available to deal with these types of property disputes. A good starting point is to apply to the Land Registry for what is known as a ‘determined boundary’, obtaining an expert’s report to make your case and submitting it with a land surveyors drawing of the proposed boundary. Approval is not a guaranteed solution, as the neighbour must still agree with the location of the boundary; and if they don’t then it would mean going through the legal process of a tribunal.

Alternatively, an offer of payment for the portion of the land under dispute, in return for setting an agreed boundary may be a solution. 

Another possibility where there is uncertainty over the boundary line would be to fence the area concerned, then after ten years an application for formal ownership can be made, via an adverse possession claim. This may be an option where the adjoining landowner is not known or other situations where there are no adjacent property owners involved and actively disputing the boundary.  We can help you with this claim.

Establishing where the boundaries of your property are and who is responsible for them does not place any requirement on the owner to replace a fence, so if you are the one determined on the upgrade, it may be worth considering offering to pay for it. There is no reason why not, even if you are not the one who is responsible, but you will still need to get agreement from your neighbour first. Discussing what you have in mind also gives an opportunity to agree who is responsible for future maintenance.   

Adam added: “If you really don’t feel able to take the first step and have an initial conversation, or if you’ve already landed yourself in the middle of a red-hot boundary dispute, then it would be a good idea to seek legal advice and call in a professional to act as intermediary with your neighbour, rather than pressing on and raising the temperature further. Then, if you reach agreement, you may have to declare the dispute, but you can say it was settled”  


If you need assistance in dealing with a boundary issue or want to understand your property rights then our team of specialists in Chesterfield, Sheffield and Mansfield are here to help.

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