Disputes with Neighbours - damage to property and boundary disputes

Published: 15/04/2015

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours – so the theme song goes… But, what if you haven’t got good neighbours and you have problems? Everyday Legal is here to explain what to do if you have your property damaged by a neighbour or if you have a boundary dispute.

Get it right and that’s when good neighbours could indeed become good friends!

More than a quarter of us have had our homes damaged by neighbours with damage to shared walls or fencing, accidental damage caused by the neighbours themselves or their children or guests, or damage from their un-kempt gardens, their problems with pests or vermin or from water damage caused by them.

Dealing with damage to property

1. Nip it in the bud. As soon as you notice any signs of damage that may have been caused by your neighbour then raise it with them immediately. That way you may avoid costly repair bills and your neighbour may be more inclined to address the problem.

2. Check your insurance to see if the damage is covered under the terms of the policy. If not you could always ask your neighbour to check their insurance to see if they have cover for the damage.

3. If a neighbour’s child causes damage to your property then probably the best remedy is mediation. Although you can sue for damages if the child was old enough to know what they were doing the reality is that few courts would look favourably on such an action.

4. If a neighbour’s child damages your property as a result of playing a ball game then, as it is trespass for the ball to cross your boundary, your neighbour would be liable to financially compensate you for the damage the ball caused.

Dealing with boundary disputes

If there’s a dispute between neighbours about the boundary between their properties then it will be necessary to establish who owns the disputed land. The legal documents for the property(ies) will usually give clear, conclusive evidence. However the boundaries between properties can differ from those in the title documents or lease in some circumstances, such as where they have been changed by agreement or changed by encroachment.

If you and your neighbour hold different opinions about where the boundary between your respective properties lies then:

  • Land Registry only records the general position of the boundary
  • Ordnance Survey maps do not determine the boundaries of anyone’s land
  • Local Authority Planning Office does not have jurisdiction over boundaries
  • Boundaries are covered by civil law and the police remit only extends to criminal law so they have no jurisdiction over boundaries

These are not methods of resolving the dispute.

Methods of resolving the dispute

1. Amicable Resolution

Approach your neighbour. The law recognises that, as boundaries are described in the earliest title deed relating to either of the properties and that the descriptions can sometimes be ambiguous, then the neighbouring landowners can agree the exact line of the boundary for the purpose of clarifying the ambiguous description. You and your neighbour may be able to work out between you where the boundary should be from the earliest title deeds although to formalise this you may need the services of a solicitor.

2. Expert Determination

If you and your neighbour agree that neither of you have the expertise to resolve the matter then you could delegate determining where the boundary should be to an expert. The expert’s decision is, by prior agreement of the parties, legally binding on both parties.

3. Mediation

This approach involves the disputing parties negotiating a settlement. A specialist mediator would need to be appointed – either a surveyor who specialises in boundary disputes or a lawyer who specialises in property law or litigation and in either case the mediator has also had specialist training in litigation.

The advantages of mediation are that the settlement is shaped by the parties themselves and is confidential, quick, cost effective and final.

4. Litigation

Boundary disputes are litigated in the County Court or the High Court if the dispute has a high monetary value or it will establish a new legal precedent. The dispute can also be taken to the Land Registration Division of the Tribunals Service.

Litigation is the slowest method of dispute resolution.

Once the dispute is resolved it is a good idea to have the exact position of the boundary recorded in the form of a Determined Boundary and noted on the title registers of both parties at the Land Registry.

NB: The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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