The nature of disputes with neighbours means that no two problems are the same. Some problems arise more frequently than others and are detailed briefly below.
Boundary disputes are a common cause of dispute between neighbours. Ascertaining the correct property boundaries is vital and there are several ways of going about this.
Many home-owners nowadays receive a Land Registry Title Plan document from their solicitor when they purchase a property. It can prove a good starting point in finding boundaries. The problem with these plans is that they are not necessarily drawn to scale and the thick lines denoting boundaries can make metres of difference when applied to the land itself. In small, suburban gardens every metre makes a considerable difference to the value of the land and, of course, the owners enjoyment of that land. Furthermore, they are not available for unregistered land. Other potentially useful pieces of information are maps and old photographs. Neighbours who have lived in their properties for a long time can also be asked to provide evidence as to the exact location of boundaries.
Installing and Maintaining Fences and Walls
It is always advisable to seek legal advice if you intend to move a boundary fence from its original position. Planning permission is required for fences or walls over two metres in height or over one metre if they are adjacent to a public highway. A frequent cause of neighbour dispute is boundary fences falling into disrepair. A solicitor can help you to ascertain whose responsibility the upkeep of fences is and therefore save you any unnecessary bills. Additionally, disputes frequently arise around the installation of unsightly new boundary fencing and walls and legal advice can help determine whether fencing is in breach of any regulations or duties arising under previous agreements.
Trees and hedging
There is no right to a view in law and it can be very difficult to force a neighbour to keep hedges and trees well trimmed. The Local Authority can be very helpful in this matter, especially with regard to evergreen trees and hedges which block out light and it is worth contacting them as a preliminary course of action.
You are entitled to cut back any trees which overhang or encroach upon your property but in so doing you must not trespass onto your neighbours land and you must return, or at least offer to return any branches, roots or fruit to your neighbour. There is no maximum height for trees and hedging unfortunately and you are not, however, permitted to alter the height of the trees or hedges on neighbouring land.
Rights of way
Legal advice can be useful in determining the extent of the right of way and what it may be used for. It can be useful to consult a lawyer, particularly if a barely used right of way is suddenly used more frequently or for a different purpose than it was intended.
Bringing a claim for nuisance
A nuisance is the unreasonable use of a persons land which has the effect of causing a nuisance to you or adversely interferes with your enjoyment of your land. The courts will not consider normal use of a property a nuisance and will give weight to a nuisance of long duration. Some noises, for example are considered an acceptable part of property ownership such as mowing the lawn, playing children and crying babies. Noise which is created by a neighbour with the specific aim of causing annoyance would be looked at unfavourably by the courts. Bringing a claim for a private nuisance can be a way of last resort for resolving noisy neighbours, encroaching trees, nasty odours etc. remedies for nuisance – there are three possible remedies when a neighbour has committed a nuisance, they are damages, injunctions and abatement.
An easement confers the right to one landowner to use the land of another in some way, or to prevent it being used in a certain way. Easements are frequently created on the sale of a part of land retaining a right of access or drainage for example but they can also be created by prescription, in other words if someone has used your land for twenty years continuously then they may continue to do so as an easement has been created.
It is often worth taking legal advice about covenants which affect the land. Positive covenants do not run with the land. So, for example, if the person that you bought your house from had agreed to a covenant to maintain a fence then it is unlikely that you are still obliged to do so. It is often helpful to seek legal advice in such matters.