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Avoiding boundary disputes

Avoiding boundary disputes starts well before home improvement work begins.

Avoiding boundary disputes starts well before home improvement work begins, as Vicky Khandker, head of Lodders’ Property Dispute Resolution team explains.

Around a third of the UK’s home improvement projects are close to an adjoining or neighbouring property or boundary – and the number of disputes between neighbours is on the up.

With supply in the residential property market falling short of demand, growing numbers of homeowners are opting to improve rather than move. Between 2020 and 2021, 48% of Brits took on a home improvement project. In 2021 alone, 77% of UK homeowners invested £20 million between them in their properties*.

Whatever the size or scale of your home improvement scheme, it’s important to be aware of any impact on neighbours, as a dispute over an adjoining boundary can be costly, time consuming, and traumatic to resolve.

Land Registry

Understandably, many homeowners start by looking at the property title plan held by the Land Registry, believing this to be reliable and accurate, and the basis for identifying the boundary line on the ground.

However, whilst, the Land Registry plan can be useful for indication purposes, it can differ significantly from the boundary line on the ground or even in the underlying deeds.

As a matter of law, Land Registry plans do not generally denote the precise boundary, and there are further complications. For example, due to scale, the physical red line boundary on the plan could in fact amount to a significant area on the ground as opposed to the precise point where two properties meet.

Furthermore it will not take account of movement of any boundary features on the ground or the use of the properties.

Even going through the process of looking at the property’s old deeds and original root of title leaves a margin for error, as the plans may not be scaled, or be for identification only. Furthermore plans may have been copied multiple times meaning scaled plans could no longer be accurate.

Communicate with your neighbours

If you are considering any work on your property or garden, talk to your neighbours first.

Neighbours who don’t know what you are doing may worry and fear the worst, which is never beneficial. Tell them what you are seeking to do and, if appropriate, ensure you understand and respect the requirements under the Party Wall Act 1996 and serve appropriate notices. Keeping neighbours informed from the outset is vital to minimise any issues, and fall outs in the longer term.

Let your neighbours know the plan for the build, and give them reassurance – about the scheme, the build timetable, and also to show you are considering the impact everything will have on them.

Trouble ahead

It’s vital to act quickly at the first sign your neighbour may have an issue, as this is the key to resolving a dispute quickly and successfully. Always seek professional advice early on. If you are using a surveyor before the build gets underway, this is a good opportunity to discuss boundaries, but if there is any uncertainty at all, it is always sensible to take specialist legal advice.

If you are buying or planning to buy a property with a boundary or fence that looks not quite right, take early advice prior to purchasing the property, rather than assuming you can correct the boundary line once you move in.

What are the consequences

Boundary disputes – whether residential or commercial – can take 18 months to two years, or more, to get a final determination through the courts.

As well as a boundary dispute being hugely stressful and potentially costly, it will also have an impact on the saleability of your home – in fact, it will make it largely unsaleable until the dispute is resolved. It is therefore important to take early advice should there be the possibility of a dispute to try and resolve it quickly.

More information

Lodders’ Property Dispute Resolution team advises private clients and businesses on a broad range of residential and commercial property and property related professional negligence matters, including boundary disputes, rights of way issues, and restrictive covenants. For further information or advice, contact Vicky Khandker: E: vicky.khandker@lodders.co.uk, T: 01789 206123.

*Source: The annual Renovation Nation Report by consumer spending experts at money.co.uk (The Renovation Nation Report | money.co.uk)

This article first published in Issue 8 of our client magazine, Lodders Life. Read this and more features online here.

Contact us

Vicky is a partner and head of the Property Dispute Resolution team.

She advises clients on a broad range of contentious property matters. Vicky specialises in all disputes relating to land or property including boundary disputes, party walls, easements including rights of way, restrictive covenants and ownership of land including proprietary estoppel.