News & Views

How to avoid boundary disputes and stay on good terms with your neighbours


Picture the scene: John Smith decides to move a fence a few inches into his neighbour’s land. He thinks nothing of it. In fact, he believes the additional land is his anyway. He re-locates the fence whilst his neighbour is away on holiday. John’s actions spark a row and a claim for adverse possession is lodged by his neighbour resulting in sleepless nights for John, stress, family strife and finally thousands of pounds to settle the claim out of court. Not a situation you want to find yourself in.

The Party Wall Act 1996 is the ‘go-to’ legislation that deals with such boundary issues. In short, it offers a framework for resolving disputes and highlights the step by step procedure to follow to ensure that disputes are avoided in the first place.

Bear in mind that if you own a flat for example with a garden and you wish to undertake extension works, you would need to consider the above Party Wall Act. Not only will you need to obtain the freeholder/landlord’s consent to the works but you must engage a party wall surveyor, notify the neighbouring flat-owner/s and then request that they each consult a party wall surveyor before you proceed with the works.

There are some common sense ways to deal with such a situation before it escalates and to maintain  good will between neighbours at all times.

Before you tear down a joint wall, mend or move a fence or cut down a tree on a boundary for whatever reason, consider the following:

  • If there is a joint boundary you want to do work on, always sound out your neighbour before you do any work – it is advisable to discuss this with him/her and then put the request in writing.
  • Always engage a party wall surveyor before you do any work.
  • Remember that Land Registry plans show a general boundary and until that boundary has been “determined” by survey (which is rare), the boundary is not definitive.
  • Note that making a party wall taller, shorter or deeper, removing a chimney breast from a party wall and digging below the foundation level of a neighbour’s property, building a new wall on or at the boundary of 2 properties, cutting into a party wall, knocking down and rebuilding a party wall all constitute building works for the purposes of the Party Wall Act 1996.
  • It is vital to consider the lawyer/surveyor interface. Whilst lawyers have to describe land in a way that precisely defines those boundaries, they are not trained to do what is essentially the work of a surveyor. When purchasing a piece of land without adequate plans, ensure you arrange for accurate plans to be prepared by a surveyor to a large enough scale – it could save you time and expense.
  • Always check with the local planning department to make sure that the tree you wish to cut down or trim is not subject to a tree preservation order or situated in a conservation area.
  • In law you are entitled to cut off any branches of a tree overhanging your property provided you return them to their owners.
  • You have the right to prune back any overhanging vegetation on your land on the basis that the pruning does not cause long term damage to the tree.
  • Entering someone’s property, without permission, to cut a tree would of course, be illegal.

For more information on any of the issues above please contact our residential team.

Click here for a fuller understanding of the Party Wall Act 1996.

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