It’s a sad reality that almost everyone who owns or manages land will, at some point, have issues with a neighbour. Instances in rural areas are also sadly becoming more common. In the past, almost everyone who lived in the countryside either worked in agriculture or was closely connected in some way to the neighbouring landowners and farmers. This close relationship meant that disputes rarely arose or, if they did, they never got out of hand as neighbours would be able to work with each other to avoid problems.
The modern reality is that the connection has gone and when neighbours are not interacting daily or weekly, it is all too easy for misunderstandings and disagreements to arise.
There are a few tips that can help avoid disputes getting out of control:
- Always consult with neighbours where possible before carrying out alterations to boundaries or rights of way. Besides being courteous, the neighbour may have a different impression as to the ownership of the feature which can be resolved before the works are carried out and avoiding disputes before they start.
- Carry out some research into the ownership of the boundary feature by looking at title deeds, historic plans, replies given to enquiries by a previous seller of the land and any pre-registration title records. Old aerial photographs and Ordnance Survey plans can also be a useful source of information.
- However, be circumspect when it comes to the accuracy of title plans. The width of a red line is usually several metres alone and such plans are not definitive despite what some people may think. Historic plans are often notoriously inaccurate and will often have been drawn up in an office by a solicitor, who may have never visited the site.
- If you are buying or selling land, be clear and explicit as to where the boundaries are, who owns what and what the respective rights and responsibilities are. Make sure it is written down with an accurate professional plan. It might take a bit longer, but will save a lot of stress and cost further down the line.
- Each boundary dispute is different and it is important to try and look at the facts objectively, and, as hard as it is, without involving emotion or calling on historic issues between the parties. The original cause of most disputes is usually innocent incompetence, rather than any deliberate deception, but as soon as the hackles are raised it becomes very difficult to see this and reaching a sensible resolution becomes harder still.
- Work out a clear case of why you feel you are correct and try to avoid relying on unsubstantiated claims and opinions. Try explaining the situation to a trusted independent adviser to get their opinion, this process can draw out the actual root cause of a dispute and avoids getting focused on side issues.
- Try mediation first. If you can’t resolve an issue face to face or through correspondence, try mediation before litigation. Litigation will harden attitudes and actively works against reaching a compromise that both parties would be happy with as each side becomes purely focused on arguing their own case. Compared to the cost of going to court, not to mention the stress, mediation is a proven and cost-effective method of resolving disputes. The respective legal advisers are often the only ones who come out of a legal battle better off, both mentally and financially. Even if you ‘win’ you will probably end up with a hefty legal bill.
If you would like further advice with regards to anything mentioned above, please contact Charles on 01684 325215 or 07814 033449.