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Love Thy Neighbour: Walker Foster’s guide to resolving boundary disputes

February 1, 2023

Walker Foster prides itself on its empathy and support for its clients that encounter a dispute with their neighbours over the boundary or fence line of the adjoining property.

Research by Churchill Home Insurance reveals nearly 11 million people, almost a fifth of UK homeowners (23 per cent), have been involved in a property boundary issue with a neighbour.

In the last 12 months alone, 6.6 million (14 per cent) homeowners have argued over boundaries of their property.

Boundary disputes can be broadly categorised into four main headings:

  • Plot lines and party wall disputes
  • Fence, landscaping, and outbuilding disputes
  • Access disputes
  • Adverse possession claims

Otherwise, rational people can become bitterly entrenched over a perceived encroachment of possibly a few centimetres only and in some circumstances will spend thousands of pounds seeking to protect a slither of land, the value of which can be significantly less than the costs involved to resolve the dispute.

Relations between the neighbours can disintegrate and once the dispute has been resolved, the realisation that unless one party moves, they remain neighbours with their antagonist and those relations do not fully recover.

So how does one not become involved in a protracted and costly dispute with one’s neighbour?

Walker Foster would encourage a potential participant to a boundary dispute to speak with one’s neighbour and seek to negotiate a compromise.

Perhaps the neighbour had not known that a tree had overgrown, a fence had become dilapidated, or that access had become restricted.

If an amicable solution can be achieved, then this will save both time and money and will preserve your relationship with your neighbour, and perhaps even enhance it.

If, however, an agreement cannot be reached, then what can one do?

Walker Foster would strongly encourage that you talk to your neighbour in the first instance; face to face, if you can, and make a note of what is agreed. It is very often best to find a compromise.

It could help you to keep a good relationship with your neighbour and it will undoubtedly be cheaper than paying a solicitor to resolve the disagreement.

In the event that the neighbours cannot reach a resolution, then there are various options available to establish the correct boundary line.

Some people rely on plans that are held at HM Land Registry, but one should be very careful on such plans.

The reasons for exercising caution to this approach are primarily threefold:

  • Title plans from HM Land Registry do not usually establish the legal boundaries of the properties with any precision;
  • The plans used by HM Land Registry are based on ordnance survey maps and are deemed to show only what are described as “general boundaries” and in such cases the exact line of the boundary is left undetermined, irrespective of what appears to be shown on the title plans;
  • Furthermore, the thickness of the line on the plan itself approximates to 0.3m on the ground and this is even ignoring the problem of relative accuracy and margin of error on ordnance survey maps (which, on a 1:1250 map means that a boundary feature may be inaccurate by up to approximately one metre).

If you are inclined to purchase the title plans for your property, it might be prudent to also purchase the title plans for the neighbouring property. They might be different to each other!

The most useful document to determine the boundary is invariably the original conveyance that separated the land. This will need to be interpreted both legally and with reference to the physical features of the land at the material time.

The instruction of a surveyor can be very useful, especially if agreed by both parties and both parties will accept the evaluation of the surveyor as binding.

If the boundary line still cannot be agreed, then mediation should be considered. Mediation involves a neutral third party helping the parties to negotiate and reach a settlement.

The process can have a more practical than legal focus, and it can be arranged relatively quickly and can save the parties a considerable amount of money in legal costs.

Should mediation not be successful, then it might become necessary to contemplate relief from the judicial process. Litigation should, however, be a last resort.

A considerable period of time might elapse before the matter is listed before a judge, and once it is the judge might prefer a boundary line that neither neighbour contemplated, and consequently both parties remain dissatisfied but for different reasons.

The costs associated with boundary disputes can be substantial. It is therefore important that all avenues are explored and that advice relative to your own particular circumstances is received.

Walker Foster has a reputation for helping clients with boundary disputes and within its dispute resolution team are not only lawyers but also qualified mediators, trained with the ability to negotiate and explore alternative solutions.

This article is intended as guidance only and should not be construed as legal advice. Each dispute is resolved with reference to its own particular merits and facts. For further help and guidance on your particular issue, please contact:

  • Luca Angarano, Chartered Legal Executive: or call 01756 700200
  • Nick Dent, Chartered Legal Executive: or call 01609 711158

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