How to deal with a dispute with your neighbour

Tis the season of goodwill! How to tackle a dispute with your neighbour about a poorly maintained fence or who owns what land

  • RICS issues new advice to help address disputes between neighbours
  • Guidance covers disputes, including those about who owns what land

Arguments with neighbours, whether about poorly maintained fences or about who owns what land can ruin the festive spirit.

But new advice from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors aims to help bring neighbours together and avoid a war of words this Christmas.

The institution has worked with legal and property experts to establish some easy solutions that can help to prevent disputes ending up having to go through a lengthy formal process.

We take a look at the advice and how neighbours can best approach tricky issues such as boundary disputes.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has issued new advice to help address disputes between neighbours

They include obtaining the title plan for the property from the Land Registry and communicating as much as possible with your neighbours.

However, while North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf, welcomed the new RICS guide to boundary disputes, he added: ‘In my experience solutions to such problems are rarely ‘easy’.

‘Many neighbours are not keen to resolve issues and meet their liabilities even when it is in their best interests to do so, unless perhaps they’re thinking of moving.’

He explained: ‘If a problem arises it’s best to look at the title plan but that may not help, especially if the property is located in an outlying area where boundaries can be hard to define or may have changed since previously plotted.

‘Properties are often occupied by tenants with owners living far away with little interest in resolving what they regard as ‘minor squabbles’ or even less in paying for them.’

He said: ‘The best advice is to try to establish boundary ownership and responsibility before you buy a property if possible.

‘It’s also a good idea to keep communicating with neighbours about boundaries as their condition can change, for example, after damage caused by bad weather or other reasons. Even if you’re in the right it can be can be very tricky to enforce your rights and get your neighbour to pay their share.’

Here is the RICS new guidance….

1. Get the title plan

Before buying always ask for the ‘title plan’ from HM Land Registry and compare it to what’s being sold.

This shows the general boundaries of a property and you can usually spot and challenge any differences.

2. Not just fences

Most boundaries would typically be a fence or wall exterior. However, this could also include ditches, rivers and hedge rows when going out into more rural areas – even a series of stones set out to show who owns what counts as a boundary.

The law requires owners to keep their boundaries in good order, otherwise this could cause a dispute.

3. Talk to neighbours 

It might seem obvious, but once you’ve got the keys, knock on your neighbour’s door to introduce yourself and ask any questions about the issues you’d like to address.

Getting to problems quickly, rather than sitting on them, will help find a resolution.

4. Don’t just build

It’s also best to speak to your neighbour if you’re planning on putting up a new fence or building close to the boundary. This may help iron out any feelings about it and any misconceptions over ownership.

5. Call in the experts 

If you’re seeking mediation for a dispute or even plan to going to court, then always seek the best advice available.

An expert chartered surveyor will not only survey the site and check the deeds and plans, but also refer to historical documents and aerial photographs.

James Kavanagh, of RICS, explained: ‘Good boundaries make good neighbours. At this time of the year, thoughts turn towards goodwill to all, presents under the tree and of course a visit from Father Christmas. Perhaps it might also be time to consider neighbours and how we can all improve good neighbourliness during these, for many, difficult times.

‘This advice helps consumers take those first steps towards agreement on boundaries before entering into a very un-Christmassy/seasonal escalating dispute.’

Anyone seeking mediation services to resolve a dispute can contact the Boundary Disputes Mediation Service (BDMS) which was set up by RICS with the Property Litigation Association with support from the Civil Justice Council.


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