Legal advice – Boundary Disputes

At some stage during our lives nearly all of us will have a dispute with our neighbours. It may be a disagreement over a boundary hedge, parking into the gateway, overhanging trees, music being played too loud (particularly if your neighbours didn’t get an invite to the party!) or a whole host of either extremely significant or completely insignificant issues.

Legal advice

Whether the issues are significant or insignificant really is subjective. Clearly, the parties must think that they are significant otherwise the dispute would not have arisen in the first place.

I moved to my current house in September 1999. I was downsizing from a big house to a small house after divorce. I had a buyer for my house but I couldn’t really find what I wanted. The house I bought (which is the one I am still in), was on the market and ready for immediate occupation. It wasn’t particularly the type of house I wanted. It wasn’t in the town I wanted. I wasn’t in the kind of area I wanted, but, I could move straight in. I thought however that it would be ok for twelve months. Ten years later, here I am writing this from the same house!.

Why am I still in the same house (that I didn’t want to live in, in the 1st place), 10 years later you may ask? I am really fortunate that I have the best neighbours you could ever wish for. My next door neighbour on one side is gradually replacing the fence and every now and again asks me for a contribution which I am happy to give him. There is an absolute prohibition in the deeds against boundary fences. I couldn’t care less.

He has two large aviaries in which he keeps budgerigars and finches. His garden is beautiful and the noise of the birds is therapeutic. I couldn’t care less that there is a restricted covenant preventing people keeping birds.

I have cats; the cats sometimes go to sleep on top of the aviary. I have told my neighbour that if the cats cause a problem throws a bucket of water on them. They won’t do it again. It has never been a problem. They lie in the sun and my neighbour always asks after the cats welfare.

On the other side of my house, the neighbours have threatened that if ever I move house they will move too! It looks like I am here for the duration.

As one of my hobbies I like to tinker with motorcycles and cars. Both neighbours on the other side of the road tinker with cars we often give each other bits of advice and chew the fat over some mechanical problem or other. My neighbours are brilliant.

Even so, I have had a couple of “problems”. Once when I was burning some trees and the next door neighbour but one (a super guy) was getting more than his fair share of smoke, he jumped up and down-a lot. I don’t blame him for moaning, it was my fault.

The other “disagreement” (really too strong a word) was with my bird keeping neighbour with whom I have a superb relationship. The course of “true love” never runs smooth!

As mentioned previously, I like to tinker with mechanical things. I only have a single garage and it doesn’t give me a lot of room to tinker. An architect pal of mine had come up with a wonderful idea of making the house in to a sort of ” L” shape with a double garage forming the foot of the L. I thought it was a brilliant idea but it did mean that a; it would block part of my neighbours view and b; it would remove some (note “some”, not “all” or “a lot”) of my neighbours light. My architect friend didn’t think I would get planning permission but I thought it was worth a punt.

The only objection I had to the planning permission was from my next door neighbour. I had discussed with him the fact that I was applying for planning permission for a garage and it was only when he saw the plans that he put his objection in. However, he did tell me that he was going to object and I think, in all honesty, that his objection was not unreasonable. I didn’t get planning permission.

The whole matter didn’t cause any friction between us (at least I hope it didn’t, we’re still speaking five years later!) and I eventually ended up having a workshop built at the rear of my house.

I get many queries about neighbour disputes. Usually, by the time people come to see me the dispute is at skirmish stage. Usually what happens after the next door neighbour gets a letter from a solicitor, the previous skirmish escalates in to a full blown conflict. Beware of seeking legal advice and sending solicitors letters. As Bob Hoskins said on the BT ads, “It’s good to talk”.

Many people of course don’t want to upset their neighbours but still want to resolve any dispute. Negotiation (talking) is the way forward if the neighbour will negotiate. That is, if the neighbour will even speak! At least you must try. At least if you can get some dialogue going your part of the way there.

I get clients who come to see me, embroiled in some dispute or other who are not on speaking terms with their neighbours; the neighbours are running roughshod all over them and yet they still don’t want to upset their neighbours! I’m afraid that it is impossible to have your cake and eat it now would be a good time to seek legal advice. If the neighbours are upsetting you and they refuse to negotiate then it is impossible to resolve the matter without you upsetting them. Certainly, once they get a solicitors letter they’re going to be royally wicked off. Touche.

The moral therefore is not to let any dispute escalate into a full blown conflict. As soon as even the grain of an issue between you and your neigh bour arises, speak to them about it. Do not say “I am not being funny but …”, because as soon as somebody says “I am not being funny but …”, they know that you are being funny (and not in an amusing way!). When you are talking to your neigh bours, smile. A smile breaks down a lot of barriers. Try and see their point of view and try to get them to see yours. BUT, most importantly, keep talking and try to reach agreement. Do not fight fire with fire eg, don’t turn your radio up loud just because they have. You are stooping to their level.

If ultimately talking doesn’t work, you may have to look at legal action. Over the course of the next few articles I will talk about some individual boundary disputes and how you can deal with them. Meanwhile, if you have a neighbour problem, just try to ignore it until you read my next article.