Neighbour disputes

Neighbour and boundary disputes can become stressful and challenging, however they are an extremely common occurrence. Any dispute relating to the personal home needs to be dealt with rationally, especially when tensions between neighbours are high or there is a risk of violence. Although there are no formal guidelines on how to deal with neighbour disputes, there are steps you can take to resolve them without the need for legal action.

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Common neighbour disputes

Noise

A very common complaint raised by people is to do with noise. Noise complaints can vary from loud music to excessive or loud barking from a dog. Some noise is unavoidable, however it can become unbearable and an ongoing problem. It's best to informally speak to your neighbour asking them to reduce the noise or control it. If your neighbour is a tenant, you could also contact their landlord to deal with the situation.

If the excessive noise persists it may be a good idea to keep a written record of the disturbances which will give you evidence in the future. You can also make a complaint to the local authorities who have extensive powers and are required to investigate any problem relating to noise nuisances. They will appoint an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) to investigate the noise and objectively give an expert opinion on it. If they decide the noise is a statutory nuisance they can make an order that the owner ceases the noise or controls it. If the offending neighbour doesn't obey the order there can be heavy fines and penalties.

Trees and hedges

Overhanging trees are another common reason for neighbour disputes. If a neighbour's tree overhangs into a neighbouring property, the tree owner should be asked to trim back the tree. If this is not done then the person complaining of the overhanging tree has the right to trim back the tree to the boundary line. However if you live in a conservation area or the trees are protected by a tree preservation order you'll need to ask your local council's permission to trim or cut the trees. You should also informally talk to your neighbour to let them know of your intentions to trim back the tree branches. The tree branches and foliage should also be returned to your neighbour or disposed of properly with their consent.

Tall hedges have also become increasingly prevalent due to people wanting more privacy from their neighbours. However hedges can't be more than two metres tall or affect your enjoyment of your home or garden (ie because it's blocking the light). You can ask your local council for a complaint form but you might have to pay a fee for the council to consider your complaint.

Boundaries, fences and driveways

When disputes arise between neighbours about the boundaries between their properties, it's necessary to find out who owns the disputed land. You should check the property title deeds to see who owns the land and where the boundary is for the property. However boundary lines aren't always clearly defined on property deeds and it may be necessary to get an expert surveyor. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has free advice on boundary disputes.

Generally there isn't a duty to erect and maintain any type of fence or railing around your property. The only exceptions are when there is a requirement in the title documents or lease or the property is next to a street or road and may cause danger. In order to find out who has an obligation to repair a fence or rail you'll need to look at the property documents. This will set out who owns the fence or rail and whether they have to maintain or repair it. A person is only required to fix a fence or rail if it expressly says so in the title deeds. The only obligation on the fence owner is that it must be safe.

If there is a shared driveway then each person has a right of access and neither neighbour can block access to it. There are no automatic rights over parking spaces on a public road.

Shared amenities

Sometimes you'll share some amenities with your neighbours. These can include shared drains and pipes, shared gardens or even a communal rooftop on a block of flats. Disputes usually arise over who has the responsibility of maintaining or keeping the shared amenities clean. Legal documents such as the lease or title deeds will normally state who is responsible for maintaining or repairing the shared amenities. However as they aren't always clear, it may be best to share the costs of any repairs or cleaning for any shared amenities if each party intends to use them. The simple solution should be to always informally talk to your neighbour to resolve these disputes.

Party walls

You might have a shared wall if your property is adjoining to another property. This is known as a party wall. If you or your neighbour plans to carry out work that will affect a party wall between the two properties then there must be a party wall notice served on all the people affected. If you have a good relationship with your neighbour it may be possible to minimise costs by negotiating a Party wall agreement instead of going through the usual party wall notice procedure. For further information read Party wall matters.

Abusive, anti-social or violent neighbours

Some neighbours may be violent or abusive. Instances of anti-social behaviour could be anything from harassment, verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying to animal nuisance (eg dog fouling) and vandalism. If you're experiencing any of these issues you should establish who is responsible for the behaviour and try and mediate if it's a relatively minor anti-social issue, or calling the police if your neighbour is in any way showing or displaying violence or aggression. This is especially important if your neighbours are discriminating you based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality, disability, gender or any showing any other form of discrimination.

How to resolve neighbour disputes

In the first instance you should try and resolve any neighbour disputes informally by talking to them. This is the easiest way to resolve any dispute. If it appears that one or both parties won't be able to keep calm then it may be best to write to them.

If the initial informal discussion doesn't appear to work then it might be best to try a mediation service. A mediation service will enable a third party, usually a trained impartial mediator, to facilitate any discussions and hear both sides of the story. They can make a recommendation as to what should be done. There can be a fee for mediation but it will cost considerably less than going to court or seeking legal advice. You can find a mediator in your area by using the Ministry of Justice website. For further information read Mediation.

If your neighbour is a tenant, it may be appropriate to contact their landlord. Who the landlord will be depends on who owns the property. If the property is owned by the local authority, then the local authority's housing department should be the point of contact. A private landlord can apply for repossession of the property on the basis that the tenant has been a nuisance to neighbours or if discrimination is involved.

If all else fails it may be appropriate to commence court proceedings. However taking court action is very expensive and if you take your neighbour to court, it will ultimately damage your relationship with them. You will need to Ask a lawyer for help with your specific situation and they can advise you on the merits of your claim and the best way forward.

Resolving boundary disputes

If you are trying to determine who owns an area of land or where a legal property boundary is, then you should contact HM Land Registry. HM Land Registry will show the extent of the land in a registered title by a red line on the title plan. Where a boundary of the land is not defined by a physical feature on the Ordnance Survey map, HM Land Registry indicates it on the title plan by a dotted line.

If you've already ordered Official copies of the properties to determine the legal boundaries and it's not clarified who owns the land, then you need to record the boundaries more accurately.

You can do this in two ways:

  • making a boundary agreement with your neighbour
  • applying for a determined boundary

Agreement

You can avoid having to create a Boundary agreement by having an informal discussion with your neighbour. However, if you cannot agree who should own the piece of land or agree to terms which accommodates both parties then you can create a Boundary agreement. A Boundary agreement records the boundary between two properties and who's responsible for maintaining the land.

Apply for a determined boundary

You can apply to have the exact boundary between your property and your neighbour's recorded. This is known as applying for a 'determined boundary'. You can only do this if your property is registered.

You'll need to send:

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