Neighbour Disputes – Sometimes Only the Law Can Provide a Resolution

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A thin line on a small property plan can represent a metre’s width on the ground and that, sadly, is the source of a great many boundary disputes. However, as one case recently reviewed by David Watson showed, where irreconcilable differences exist between neighbours, the law can generally provide a peaceful resolution.

The case concerned two semi-detached homes. Their owners were once on friendly terms but had for years been at bitter odds about the condition and positioning of fencing between their back gardens. Which of them was right depended on the precise location of the boundary. The difference between them in that respect amounted to 4cm of ground, or half the width of a brick.

A couple who owned one of the houses argued that the boundary passed through the middle of a fence post at the end of their gardens. Their neighbour, however, asserted that the post was entirely on his land. His claim that the boundary was also marked by a mortar joint lying between brick extensions built on both properties was disputed by the couple. Following a hearing before the First-tier Tribunal, the couple’s arguments as to the location of the boundary were preferred.

Ruling on the neighbour’s challenge to that outcome, the Upper Tribunal noted that both properties were built in the 1960s and an original, small-scale plan drawn up at the time showed the boundary as a perfectly straight line. However, that was not necessarily representative of the position on the ground in that conveyancers of the past did not have the benefit of computerised mapping tools.

After conducting a site visit and hearing expert and lay evidence, the Upper Tribunal upheld the neighbour’s appeal and found that the boundary was where he said it was. Given that he bore responsibility for maintaining the fence between the two gardens, the likelihood was that the disputed post was on his land. His arguments in respect of the mortar joint were also accepted. The Upper Tribunal expressed the hope that its definitive ruling in respect of the boundary’s location would enable the neighbours to sort out the fencing issue which had come so bitterly between them.

It is important to seek legal advice as quickly as possible in the event of a boundary dispute, to avoid protracted and expensive proceedings.

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