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Keep summer stress-free – preventing neighbour disputes

As temperatures rise and the holidays begin many of us will be looking to enjoy our gardens and make improvements to our homes.

This sudden surge in development, gardening and the use of outdoor areas often leads to an increase in disputes between neighbours, which can sometimes lead to costly legal action.

Some of the issues that often lead to conflict include: loss of light from changes to a home; boundary issues; party wall conflicts.

While many of us would prefer to avoid conflict with the people we live next door to, sometimes it is unavoidable.

To help, we have looked at how you can manage disputes with your neighbours and the laws that apply to boundaries and the use of your home and garden.

Avoiding conflict

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, the land registry may not record precisely where the boundary runs nor mark physical boundaries such as fences and hedges. The boundaries shown on a title plan may not show the exact legal boundary.

Of course, a disputed boundary can also make your property 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?

The importance of deeds

The original 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 recommended if you have concerns.

Talk to your neighbour

Where safe, appropriate and feasible, it is a good idea to speak with your neighbour in the first instance 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.

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.

Boundary agreements

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.

Determined boundaries

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.

Adverse possession

In some cases, it can be possible to explore a claim 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.

Party wall issues

Beyond issues with boundaries, many homeowners also experience conflict when it comes to building work, especially where it impacts party walls. This could include development above and below ground.

The Party Wall Act 1996 protects the interest of owners of adjoining properties where significant work is being undertaken.

Under the legislation, individuals are required to inform all neighbours two months in advance if they intend to conduct any structural work, such as:

  • Cutting into the wall
  • Demolishing and rebuilding a Party Wall
  • Excavating foundations.
  • Inserting a damp proof course
  • Raising a party wall

More minor work such as replastering, installing shelves, installing or replacing wiring or putting in electrical sockets are not bound by this requirement.

In most cases, before any work can begin on a neighbouring property, the owner conducting the work must serve a Notice under the Party Wall Act on the neighbouring property owner about the planned works.

This notice must:

  • Be served within the statutory timescales
  • Clearly describe the proposed work in detail
  • Inform all affected adjoining owners
  • Reference the relevant sections of the Party Wall Act

Once neighbours have been notified of the proposed work, they will have a period of 14 days to either object or provide a written agreement.

This will be on the condition that certain time limits, compensation and temporary protection are put in place.

If a neighbour does not agree, a surveyor will be appointed to prepare a party wall report. This will summarise the exact nature of the work, including conditions and a timeframe.

If a neighbouring developer or property owner disregards the Party Wall Act and fails to serve Notice, the owner of the adjoining property can struggle to prevent work from going ahead without a court order, known as a party wall injunction, to stop the works until matters are concluded.

Where a Party Wall is in dispute, both parties have the right to appoint surveyors to mitigate the risk posed by building works and to agree on works that can go ahead or agree on compensation for any damages caused.

It is the surveyor’s role to assess whether the work has been conducted properly, within current regulations and potentially the impact on the adjoining property. This area is, therefore, ripe for conflict. Often requiring a careful legal resolution via the courts.

Right to light

Where a neighbour builds an extension or erects a new wall that obstructs light into your home and garden, this can be another common reason for a dispute. Legally, these issues relate to your right to light.

Before commencing work your neighbour must consider how the development of their property affects your right to light.

In the first instance, you should try talking the issue over with your neighbour in case it can be resolved amicably.

However, if there is a planned development that you feel results in a loss of light in any part of your property, you may wish to seek legal advice to prevent construction and resolve matters.

You may have a particularly compelling case where the works affect light in any habitable parts of your home.

Where building work has begun you may be able to force your neighbour to make amendments to the development via legal action, or could, in some cases, seek compensation for loss of light.

Where the loss of light to your property is significant it may be possible to obtain an injunction against a neighbour that prevents work from proceeding further or require that the development be demolished.

A pragmatic approach

The cost of a boundary or party wall dispute can spiral quickly and 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 determine the strength of your claim and identify the most pragmatic and cost-effective approach.

To find out more about our property dispute services, you can contact me by calling +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or emailing mary.brennan@mackrell.com.

*Mary Brennan is a solicitor at Mackrell Solicitors

Source: Estate Agent Today

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