Has your neighbour erected a fence that encroaches on your land or garden? Perhaps their trees or hedges are spreading into your property? Or maybe they have built an extension that has strayed across your boundary?
While many of these disputes are settled amicably, a significant number need to be decided in court.
So, if you face a boundary dispute, how do you go about resolving it? This post outlines some of the options open to you.
Know your boundaries
A good first step is to check your deeds. Many property plans are also available via the Land Registry, although you or your solicitor may also hold relevant records. Remember that Land Registry plans do not precisely establish legal boundaries, except in a special case known as a ‘determined boundary’.
The most important document available to you is the original conveyance that created the boundary in the first place. However, this still needs to be interpreted legally – this is something we can help you with. Ideally you should also compare your documents with any held by your neighbour, in case there are discrepancies.
Speak to your neighbours
The best way to avoid a boundary dispute is to talk to your neighbours about any issues as soon as they become apparent. For example, if your neighbour removes a hedge and begins to erect a fence on what you believe to be your land, let them know that you suspect this might be in the wrong place. It’s quite possible that your neighbour may have not realised and that the disagreement could end there. It is worthwhile keeping a note of the time, date and what was said in any exchange as this might be useful later on in the event you cannot agree.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
If you can’t come to an agreement with your neighbour, don’t rush into litigation against them. If you do, there’s every chance that a court will halt the case before you explore alternative ways of solving the dispute.
There are three main ways you can try to settle a boundary dispute before it goes to court. They are:
- Mediation. This is when a neutral third party helps both sides to negotiate and reach a settlement. It is usually held at a neutral venue. Mediation aims to offer practical rather than legal solutions, so if it fails it does not compromise your position if you then choose to litigate. However, this approach is often highly successful and is much cheaper and quicker than going to court.
- A binding evaluation. Both parties can hire a neutral expert (such as a solicitor) to evaluate and determine the outcome of their dispute. Evaluations are best conducted ‘on site’, which will allow the expert to point out relevant features of the land. If both sides agree at the outset, they can choose to view the expert decision as binding – meaning it can’t be challenged.
- A non-binding evaluation. This is essentially the same process, but neither party agrees to make the expert decision binding. One advantage of a non-binding evaluation is that it can suggest a likely outcome if the case were to be taken to court.
If none of these three approaches are successful, then the next option is a pre-litigation protocol. In a nutshell, this is a process that assumes that informal discussions have not worked and thus provides a more structured resolution process. This helps make sure both parties exchange information in a timely manner, minimising further disputes between them. It’s quite possible for this process to lead to mediation or a binding evaluation.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the only way to settle a boundary dispute is via litigation. There are two ways in which the Courts can resolve these issues.
Firstly, you can apply to the Land Registry to have a boundary ‘determined’. If you do this and your neighbour objects, you will be referred to the Registry’s mediation service. If this fails to deliver a solution, your case will be referred to the Land Registry Division of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). A Tribunal Judge will visit the site if necessary and then convene a hearing. Generally, whoever loses the case pays the costs.
Secondly, you can issue proceedings in a County Court. You will need to set out your case and your opponent will respond. These courts normally order expert surveying evidence and will provide a timetable covering the period before the trial. Again, whoever loses the case will normally be expected to pay the costs.
What should I do next?
If you’re facing a boundary dispute and you can’t come to an arrangement with your neighbour, please speak to us as soon as possible. Our specialist dispute resolution team will do all they can to help you reach a positive outcome.
If this is not possible and you wish to litigate, taking your case to either a first-tier tribunal or the County Court, we can also advise you and undertake all necessary preparations to set out your case.