When it comes to our property boundaries and hedges, we all know someone who has been involved in a dispute with neighbours, and more often than not, this has cost them thousands. With surveyors’ and legal fees involved, cases regarding disputed hedges, driveways, party walls, overhanging branches and fences can often become a financial nightmare. But why?
The dispute over boundaries can often be a bit of minefield, as the location of said boundaries can vary over a period of time. For example, wooden fences can often be put back in slightly different positions every time they’re replaced and diverted water courses can often cause confusion. But, spokesman for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), David Powell, suggests that many disputes often transpire after a home is sold and the new owner takes issue to something that the previous owners had turned a blind eye to for many years before.
Speaking to The Guardian, Powell comments that, ‘There are rarely disputes over more than 30cm. Once you get above that, there’s something obvious with which to solve it.’ In fact, the disputes over boundaries can often be so ridiculous they are laughable, as was the case with David Jollands from Lincolnshire. He took issue with the leylandii hedge next door and proceeded to urinate on it until it began to wither after a period of time.
Isn’t it in our interest to find amicable solutions with our neighbours?
Unless you’re thinking about moving in the near future, getting involved in a tussle with your neighbour over the boundary can often lead to further problems and hostility. Siobhan Calcott, executive in litigation at Brethertons Solicitors commented, ‘If one party has been landed with a legal cost bill of £20,000 following a two-day trial, it does tend to place strain on the relationship between neighbours.’
That’s why, knowing the ins and outs of the legalities and rules in place are essential before proceeding with any court actions.
What rules are in place for boundaries?
Hedges do not require any form of planning permission and will only be a cause for concern for the local council if they grow over 2 metres in height, are blocking access or light for a neighbour, or are evergreen. However, if the council do request a hedge is cut down and the owner fails to do this, they can face fines of up to £1,000 under Section 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.
Should there be any overhanging branches that come onto your property, common law states that this can be cut off and given back to your neighbour without trespassing.
If you have a fence that is facing the street, this is restricted to being one metre in height, without the need for planning permission. Or, if you have a fence or wall that isn’t facing a street, this can be two metres high without the need for consent from your local authority.
For walls that separate two driveways, the permission of the neighbour will need seeking if the wall is going to be on both driveways. However, if the wall will just be on your driveway, then no permission is needed.
If a wall is shared between two properties (i.e. terraced or semi-detached houses) this is classed as a ‘party wall’. If you are to carry out any work on this wall (damp proofing, internal refurbishment, extensions and general structural alterations), permission and approval would need seeking from the relevant neighbour before proceeding.
If, in order to carry out some work, you need to access the land of one of your neighbours, you can get a court order for access under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992. But this should only be necessary if your neighbour isn’t reasonable.
What to do if there is a dispute over a boundary?
A lot of disputes can arise as neighbours fight over who is responsible for the repair and/or maintenance of the boundary fence. Looking at the deed plan or an Ordnance Survey map of the properties should help to identify this, but it might not in all cases. And, despite many beliefs, the side of the fence where the structural parts are doesn’t always indicate the owner.
Sometimes, when there are absences of boundary indications on various documents, including title deeds, this will lead to presumptions. Property litigation partner at international legal firm Withers, Sue Satchell, said: ‘For example, where there is nothing else to identify the boundary of land and there is a ditch or a bank, the presumption is that the person who dug the ditch, dug it at the extremity of his own land and threw the soil on his own land to make a bank. Therefore, the presumption is that the boundary runs along the edge of the ditch and belongs to the person on whose land it is sited.’
Sometimes, the probable ownership can be determined by looking at other properties along the same street. Peter Bolton King from the National Association of Estate Agents recalls the case of his own house, which was built in 1850, where the deeds didn’t indicate who had responsibility for what. Looking at old town plans and in what order each of the houses on his road were built, he was able to deduce who the likely owner was for each of the boundaries.
In short, if you’re concerned about the boundaries of your property, there are several ways you can investigate this without going down the costly legal route. Purchasing the Official Land Registry Title Plan is always a good place to start.
We also provide a Boundary Pack and will, in many cases, indicate exactly what boundaries there are as well as rights of way and other parts of the property that are governed by agreements.
The Boundary Pack includes:
- Official copy register of title (x2)
- Official copy title plan (x2)
- Any other documents held which contain relevant plans or references to the boundaries
- Our e-booklet “The Law on Boundaries”
You can purchase the Boundary Pack here