Boundary Disputes

When a dispute arises between neighbours over boundaries or other property rights, it can be very stressful and costly to resolve, unless you receive the right legal advice at the right time.

Most people want to avoid going to war with their neighbours over a boundary, or some other property issue. However, unless these types of dispute are handled carefully and sensitively in the early stages, they can escalate quickly.

There are many different types of property and boundary disputes that we can assist you with. Examples of some of the most common are as follows.

Disputes About Legal Boundaries

It is not unusual for neighbours to have differing ideas about where the boundary between their property lies. This can be because of the movement of natural features (such as hedges and waterways) over long periods of time, or because of issues with the way the boundaries are marked on plans. Problems can also arise where boundaries are not recorded correctly with the Land Registry. Sometimes problems with boundaries will only become apparent when someone is trying to buy or sell a property. In any of these examples, a dispute about the location of the legal boundary can arise.

It is important to seek legal advice at an early stage, to ensure that your dispute is resolved quickly and cost-effectively. Your solicitor will need to carefully consider the deeds to both properties, the relevant title documents and any other extrinsic evidence, such as historical photographs, to assist the parties in identifying where the correct legal boundary lies.

Often expert assistance from a surveyor will be required. In some cases, where a conveyancing solicitor has made an error which has led to the dispute about the boundary, you would be able to bring a claim for professional negligence to cover your cost of rectifying the issue with your boundary.

Adverse Possession

This is also known as “squatter’s rights”. Although squatting is now a crime, this does not mean that landowners are necessarily protected.

It is not uncommon for people to use land belonging to neighbours for a long period of time. Sometimes this will be deliberate, and in some cases it can be done unwittingly. Again issues with adverse possession often come to light when a property is being sold. If you can show that you have occupied someone else’s land for either 10 or 12 years (depending on the case), and that you had an intention to possess the land, it is possible that you would have acquired title to the land, meaning that you own it in law.  

It is possible to make an application to the Land Registry to have the land included within your title deeds. There are several technical exceptions which need to be taken into consideration, such as whether the land you are seeking to possess is subject to a lease, or if it is owned by the crown or a public body, and so it is important to seek legal advice before making an application to the Land Registry, to ensure that your application is made correctly.

Trespass

If a neighbour is trespassing on your land, it is important to take action to ensure that they do not acquire title to it via adverse possession (squatter’s rights), as set out above. A trespass can occur in many different ways. Examples are when a building is wholly or partially built over land which does not belong to the person doing the building, where fences are taken down and relocated incorrectly, or where structures are overhanging neighbouring land, such as guttering and pipes.

If someone has trespassed on land that you own, you will need to take legal action to evict the squatter. You should be able to bring a claim for damages and/or an order that the trespass should stop. This can mean that trespassing buildings are demolished for example, or that overhanding structures such as pipes need to be removed. Trespass claims are complex but it is common for a negotiated resolution to be achieved, if the matter is handled properly and sensitively from the outset.

Boundary Agreements

One side in a dispute could seek to argue that their oppoent, or their successors in title, had agreed that the legal boundary between two properties lies in a certain location, because of the operation of a Boundary Agreement. This may entail an “informal” agreement which is not evidenced by a deed which is said to delineate the legal boundary. A careful consideration of the original parties' intentions and an understanding of the complexities of the relevant case law is essential when dealing with this type of dispute.

Boundary Features

There maybe a disagreement between neighbours with regards to the location of and ownership of boundary features. Quite often, conveyancing documents set out who should take responsibility for constructing and maintain boundary features, such as walls and fences, but this is not always the case and disputes can arise. These disputes can be particularly relevant where the cost of maintaining a boundary are high. 

A device known as “t “ marks can appear on conveyancing plans and denote potential ownership. If you have a dispute about boundary features, and who is responsible for the cost of maintaining a boundary, it is essential to instruct a solicitor with a detailed knowledge of this type of dispute.

Challenges about Easements

An easement is a right that someone has over someone else’s land. Easements can arise expressly, impliedly, by prescription (the passage of time) or necessity (where for example one neighbour needs access to someone else's property so that they can maintain their own).  Examples of the most common types of easement are, rights of way, rights to light, rights of drainage and easements of necessity, although this is not an exhaustive list.

In some cases, it is possible to challenge an easement and have it removed. This can be achieved following careful negotiating by way of an express release. Alternatively, the easement could lost to the dominant owner as a result as a result of abandonment, merger, necessity or statute.

Property Dispute Protocol

A new boundary dispute protocol has recently come into force, which is designed to assist parties achieve early resolution in boundary and property disputes. The protocol encourages the early exchange of documents and the instruction of boundary experts in appropriate cases.

It is important that the lawyer who you instruct to deal with your boundary or property dispute, has a full understanding of the new protocol and the relevant case law, and understands how best to achieve a pragmatic and cost-effective outcome. 

Next Steps

Over a considerable number of years, Samuels Solicitors LLP has built up a national reputation for this type of work, with an experienced and well-respected team of lawyers and barristers on hand to assist you. Read a case study of how we were able to resolve a long-running boundary dispute in Bude as an example of how we can help. 

We are happy to explore different funding options with clients, and regularly deal with cases paid for by legal expense insurance and conditional (no win, no fee agreements) where appropriate.

Contact us today for a no obligation discussion about your boundary or property dispute.

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