Boundary disputes – Reducing conflict with neighbours

Disputes with neighbours generally and boundary disputes, in particular, can be very stressful, both because of the physical proximity of the other party and our emotional attachment to our own homes.

Understandably, that means emotions often run high, which means it can be all too easy to make decisions using your heart, rather than your head.

Compounding matters further still, there does not tend to be a formal record of precisely where the boundary runs or the ownership of physical boundaries such as fences and hedges. There will be boundaries shown on a title plan, but these are not usually exact.

Of course, a disputed boundary can also make your property very difficult to sell, potentially leaving you stuck at loggerheads with a neighbour.

It is no surprise then, that boundary disputes tend to lead to protracted and expensive legal battles.

So, what should you do if a neighbour disputes your boundary or vice versa?

Talk to your neighbour

Where safe, appropriate and feasible, it is a good idea to speak with your neighbour to understand their perspective on the dispute.

You might find that the dispute has arisen from a misunderstanding on the part of either party, that your neighbour is correct, the true boundary is genuinely ambiguous or that they are being unreasonable.

Whatever you discover, you will then have something to work with.

Check the deeds

The deeds to both properties can often be the key to resolving a boundary dispute, especially if they document the initial division of land and contain detailed descriptions of where the boundaries lie.

However, frequently the deeds will not contain an unambiguous answer to the question of where the boundary is.

A Chartered Land Surveyor may be able to help with interpreting the boundary according to the deeds.

It is also possible that the land in question could have been transferred subsequently, which means the deeds are not always the last word on matters and legal advice is advisable if you have concerns.

Consider mediation

If you are having difficulty reaching an agreement with your neighbour, mediation can be a cost-effective avenue to consider. The mediator will facilitate productive discussions between you to find a mutually acceptable way forward. You can seek legal advice from a solicitor during the mediation process, albeit this usually happens before and between sessions.

Make a boundary agreement

If there is a compromise and/or agreement, you can make a boundary agreement with your neighbour, which can be recorded with HM Land Registry.

To ensure this remains valid on the sale or transfer of your property, it is worth seeking legal advice.

Apply for a determined boundary

If your property is registered, you can unilaterally apply to record the exact boundary. You will need to provide a plan showing the boundary and you should obtain this from a Chartered Land Surveyor.

You will also need to provide evidence supporting your application, such as certified copies of your pre-registration deeds, expert reports and statements signed in front of a solicitor.

If you are applying to record the boundary, you should seek legal advice as applications can be referred to the tribunal if your neighbour objects.

Consider whether there is a case for adverse possession

It can be possible to make a case for adverse possession of land if you have had possession of it for more than 10 years and intended to do so.

This can be challenging to demonstrate so it is again important to seek legal advice before making a claim.

Be pragmatic

The cost of a boundary dispute can spiral quickly and can rapidly become disproportionate to the value of the land in question.

That means it is a good idea to be clear about your chances of success, and the most pragmatic avenues to a resolution.

Legal advice at the earliest opportunity can help you determine the strength of your claim from the outset and identify the most pragmatic and cost-effective approach.

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