Property boundary disputes have soared but they can be avoided by taking advice on ownership and permissions

Disputes between neighbours over property boundaries are on the rise thanks to boom in extensions

Boundary dusputes are increasing

Disputes between neighbours are on the rise due in part to an increase in the amount of time spent at home during the pandemic. Tom Edwards, a partner and litigation solicitor in the disputes team at LCF Law, says that the firm has seen a 150 per cent rise in boundary disputes over the last 18 months.

The huge uplift in home and garden improvements and new fences and extensions have in turn led to issues revolving around boundaries. Here, Tom explains some of the real life problems encountered: The fundamental problem lies in how to work out the location of the boundary. Often, people solely rely on the red boundary lines indicated on Land Registry title plans but in most cases, they only show the general location.

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Boundaries can also change over time depending on how land is used. This can lead to disputes, particularly where one neighbour tries to build or extend their garden onto a neighbour’s property because they think they own more land than they do.

There are cases where neighbours have spent thousands of pounds trying to address a boundary issue and even gone to court over the dispute. These disputes also have a big impact on the mental wellbeing of those involved.

One of the cases we were involved in was when a client’s neighbour built an extension over the entire width of their own driveway. This resulted in the neighbour being unable to get into their back garden without going through their own house.

However, the Land Registry title plans appeared to show that the neighbour owned a small strip of land on the other side of their house so they thought it could be used for access. The problem being that when the properties were built, the developer put a boundary fence in that prevented access to the rear of their property by that route, and it had been in situ for over 20 years.

The neighbour had therefore effectively built over their only external physical access point to their rear garden. Our client came home to find that the neighbour had removed the dividing fence, was using our client’s gated driveway as access to the rear of their property and their child was playing in our client’s garden.

We had to establish where the boundaries were situated, and if our client had to give access, bearing in mind that such access had never been used and could not physically have been used since the properties were built many years before. This dispute could have been avoided if the neighbour had taken advice on the location of their boundaries, with reference to the features on the ground before they built their extension.

In another case, an issue arose over the ownership of a fence dividing two gardens. Our client wanted to replace a damaged fence but the neighbour claimed it was theirs.

The title plans and deeds showed an inward facing ‘T’ mark on the relevant title plan, meaning it was our client’s responsibility to maintain the fence.

Due to the misunderstanding, relations soured so when our client put up the new fence, their neighbour hired a digger, drove it into our client’s garden and smashed the fence to pieces. A review of the deeds before the issue was raised could have prevented the dispute.

Another recent case involved the owner of a terraced house, which was on a private road that was used for pedestrian access only. Our client built a shed and flower beds on the road outside their property, something others had also done.

However, the neighbour opposite claimed that they owned the entire width of the road and told everyone to remove their sheds and garden features because they were trespassing.

Upon reviewing the deeds and based on legal presumptions, it was clear that our client and their neighbours owned up to the centre line of the road, so there was no trespass.

Disputes even involve claims about the ownership of trees. A client’s neighbour chopped down a tree to improve the view from their garden as they thought because the tree was on the boundary, they were entitled to fell it. The tree and boundary were jointly owned, so the neighbour needed our client’s permission to chop it down.

All these cases show there is more to boundary determination than meets the eye. If in doubt you should contact a property lawyer or land surveyor to determine exactly where the boundary is.

We advise neighbours to do their best to avoid disputes, as such issues usually need to be disclosed when they sell their home. This can reduce its value or prevent a sale. Always communicate with your neighbour before work commences, as it is often the lack of communication that causes a dispute to escalate.

LCF Law has offices in Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate, and Ilkley,