Neighbour disputes can be notoriously costly to deal with, not to mention the problem of living next to someone that you just do not get along with. While communication is certainly the key to resolving most neighbour disputes there are regrettably some neighbours that just will not agree, and in those circumstances it is important to seek legal advice at an early stage.
Our team sets out below some of the more common questions that arise in neighbour disputes.
Q: My neighbour’s tree branches are overhanging into my garden: can I cut them down?
You may be able to cut the branches back to the boundary line of your property, but it is probably best to ask your neighbour for permission before doing so as they may agree to do it themselves which would reduce the potential for a dispute.
If you do cut the branches back yourself, you must:
ensure that the tree is not subject to a tree preservation order.
be careful in determining where the boundary line is.
give the owner any branches and/or fruit removed or dispose of it with the owner's consent.
Q: How do I find out where the boundary line is between my property and my neighbour’s property?
The title deeds to your property usually have a plan of your property which indicates the boundary lines.
Unfortunately, sometimes the title deeds may not assist in determining the exact location of the boundary line. If this is the case and you are in dispute with your neighbour as to where the exact boundary line is then you may need to consult with a solicitor, who may recommend that a specialist survey be carried out by a surveyor.
Q: My neighbour’s fence has collapsed: are they obliged to fix it?
This depends: the title deeds may contain a covenant requiring your neighbour to maintain the fence, but usually there is no positive obligation to do so or indeed to have any boundary feature. Your neighbour could however still be liable for any damage or injury caused by the fence. If you are certain that the ownership of the fence is not disputed, and the fence has fallen onto your land then you can carefully place the fallen fence on your neighbour’s land and advise them that you have done so.
Q: Does my neighbour have to keep their hedges neat and tidy?
There is unfortunately no general duty on your neighbour to maintain their hedges. The title deeds may contain covenants in relation to maintenance of the hedges and, possibly, prohibit their removal without permission. The hedges, however are not permitted to trespass on your land. The local authority may take action if the hedges block pavements or footpaths or obscure the view of motorists. If the hedge grows over two metres tall along a large section of your boundary, then you can ask your local authority to take action against your neighbour to force them to reduce its height.
Q: My neighbour is refusing me access to their land in order to repair my property: is there anything that I can do about it?
The title deeds to your property may well give you permission to access your neighbour’s land to carry out repairs. If your neighbour refuses access despite what the deed say then you may need to seek an Order from Court compelling him to allow you access.
If there is no mention of access in the title deeds, you will either need your neighbour’s permission to access their land or you could apply for a Court Order to enter your neighbour's garden under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992. In order to be able to apply for an order You must:
(a) demonstrate that the work is necessary;
(b) is difficult or impossible to undertake without the access; and
(c) would not unduly inconvenience the neighbour.
You also be required to make good any damage you cause and may even have to pay a small amount of compensation for the access.
You should note that such an order for access is only available to carry out repairs. It is not available, for example, to enable you to build an extension.
Q: My neighbour has recently erected a fence and gate, which is locked, over a pathway that I have used for many years, can they do this?
The answer depends on whether you have the necessary legal right to do what you were previously doing. You will need to consider whether you have an express or implied easement or possibly one acquired by statute or under common law, a so-called ‘Right of Way’.
An easement is a right to cross or otherwise use someone else’s land for a specified purpose. (e.g. a landowner may enjoy the right of way over the land of another to access their property). Easements may be created in several ways. If you believe that have an established right of way which is not expressly stated in the title deeds then you may need to consult with a solicitor.
Q: I recently bought a house. My neighbour has an express right of way over my property and uses it several times a day for no apparent reason and sometimes stops and wants to talk to me. I feel harassed by them and avoid using my garden as a result - can I stop them using the right of way?
The short answer is ‘No’ you cannot stop them using the right of way. If the express right of way is not limited, then they are entitled to use the right of way for any reason whatsoever and pass over the right of way as often as they like.
They are, however, not entitled to stop along the right of way and talk to you if you do not want them to. Talk to your neighbour as they might not realise that they are making you feel harassed and causing a nuisance. If, after you have spoken to them, they persist in stopping and trying to talk to you then you will need to explain to them that you understand that they have an unlimited right of way but that the right does not entitle them to stop along the right of way and engage with you.
If they continue trying to engage with you then it may be possible to approach the Court for relief seeking an order preventing the ‘unlawful’ use i.e. stopping them from using the right of way in such a way that it is causing you a private nuisance but without affecting the proper exercise of the right of way.
Q: I share amenities with my neighbours, if a problem arises with those amenities who is responsible?
Sometimes there are shared features between two or more properties, such as the roof of a block of flats, drains and pipes, or shared driveways. Rights to use them (i.e. putting up an aerial on a shared chimney) and responsibilities for maintaining them are usually set out in the property’s title deeds. These documents might give you as a property owner rights to use or access your neighbour’s property for specific reasons.
If the title deeds are silent with regards repair and maintenance then it is always better to try to share the costs equally or at least to make some kind of compromise about sharing a proportion of the costs, as opposed to initiating legal action which can often prove more expensive.
If the other party refuses to share the costs or accept the liability you may need to seek the advice of experts within the appropriate field to inspect the damage and to see if they are able to identify the cause of the problem.
Q: My neighbour is very noisy, is there anything that I can do about it?
If your neighbour is making excessive noise, these steps might be worth considering. The first thing you should try to do is talk to your neighbour if that is at all possible. If you are unable to resolve the dispute by talking to your neighbour or are simply too afraid and unable to talk to them, then it would be advisable to keep and diary and then report the matter to the local authority.
If you have exhausted all other avenues, you can take legal action against your neighbour using section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This should always be used as a last resort and can be an expensive task. It is always advisable to seek independent legal advice.
For more information about how our specialist dispute resolution team can help you please contact them by email at [email protected].
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.