Boundary disputes are never pleasant affairs and you should avoid taking such disagreements to court wherever possible. However, if you think your neighbour is crossing the line you may decide to take action, so it is important that you know where you stand in the eyes of the law.
Firstly, one thing to note is that boundary disputes very often arise from matters unconnected with boundaries. Commonly disagreements will escalate from a clash over something trivial. For instance, conflicts relating to car parking and disruptive noise are typical triggers. Consider the following example:
Two neighbours have a slight disagreement over a petty issue such as noise levels. One party feels insulted and searches for something to throw back at his neighbour. He recalls that the boundary fence which he allowed his neighbour to move a couple of years previously encroaches upon his land. So he consults the Land Registry plan which forms part of his title deeds which confirms his suspicions. Then he meets the conveyancing solicitor who acted for him when he purchased the property, who confirms his view. He then engages a surveyor who prepares an expensive report concluding that the line of the boundary fence does not accord with the title plan. You may expect that the story ends with the trespass being proven? Well, perhaps not.
There are two problems in this scenario, both of which a surprisingly large number of conveyancing solicitors and surveyors seem ignorant of. Firstly, Land Registry boundaries are “general boundaries” which were never intended to be so precisely drawn to assist in the resolving of boundary disputes. Secondly and equally importantly, lines drawn on plans have no regard for boundary agreements.
In simple terms, a boundary agreement can arise where adjacent owners agree that a boundary fence or other structure should be moved to a new location. This can have the effect of changing the boundary. Simple you may think. Well not exactly, as the case of Burns v Morton demonstrates. In that case Mr Burns built a wall about 9 inches inside the line of the boundary fence. The fence was then removed following completion of the wall. Years later, after his neighbour had moved on, his new neighbours’ trees began to grow towards the wall so Mr Burns pruned them back to the line of the original fence. The neighbour took Mr Burns to Court. The Court found that there had been an implied boundary agreement even though there had been no express discussion between the neighbours at the time the wall was built. Mr Burns may have thought he had retained ownership of a strip of land on the far side of his wall but the Court of Appeal did not agree. The result was that Mr Burns was hit for six and left with a substantial legal bill. Anyone in Mr Burns’ position would be well advised to seek advice from a litigation solicitor specialising in boundary issues before commencing legal action.
So, what can you do if your neighbours are being a nuisance or they are crossing your boundary? If your neighbours are causing general irritation, such as playing loud music, before taking major action you should inform your local council, or the police if they are breaking the law. If your concern is that your neighbour is crossing your boundary, it is advised that you firstly try speaking to them to see if the issue can be resolved without need for further action. If your neighbour is not the property owner, you may wish to speak to their landlord. If you do not have a good relationship with your neighbours, you could employ a mediator to help settle the dispute. Taking your case to Court should only be considered as a last resort and if you need any legal advice or guidance through any stages of the process, please contact us.