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Neighbour disputes - potential claims and remedies

View profile for Laura Meers
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Neighbour disputes - potential claims and remedies

Disputes between neighbours can arise from a variety of different scenarios and are one of the most common types of disputes. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have seen a huge increase in the number of enquiries relating to neighbour disputes. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the most common types of disputes and the potential remedies available.

As is often the case with neighbour disputes, the parties can be emotionally involved which can make attempts to settle the dispute difficult. The amount spent on legal fees can often be out of proportion to the value of the claim or the issues in dispute. Every effort should be made to try to resolve the dispute without litigation i.e. court proceedings if possible.

Dispute 1 - Private nuisance

Private nuisance is usually caused by a person doing something on their own land, which they are lawfully entitled to do, but which becomes a nuisance when the consequences of their act extend to the land of their neighbour. There are three different kinds of nuisance:

  1. Encroachment on a neighbour’s land.
  2. Direct physical injury to a neighbour’s land.
  3. Interference with a neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of their land.

Damage is not always an essential requirement of the cause of action for nuisance. The damage or interference with the enjoyment of the neighbour’s land:

  • Must be substantial or unreasonable,
  • Can arise from a single incident or a “state of affairs”,
  • Can be caused by inaction or omission as well as by some positive activity.

The key factor is being reasonable between neighbours. Examples of nuisance can include damage caused by tree roots encroaching onto your land, noise, flooding and Japanese Knotweed.

A private nuisance is actionable in tort which means a claimant can issue civil proceedings against a defendant for either or both:

  • Damages to compensate for their loss.
  • Injunctive relief to require the defendant to abate a continuing nuisance and to prevent its recurrence.

Loss can generally be categorised as actual physical damage or unreasonable interference with the property rights causing a loss of enjoyment. 

Damages for actual physical damage will usually be awarded for the costs incurred for remediation and consequential loss. 

Damages for unreasonable interference are usually awarded on the basis of diminution of the value of those rights as a result of the nuisance.

Dispute 2 - Boundary disputes

What is a boundary?

A boundary is essentially an imaginary line which separates two or more properties. It does not exist in any physical form, yet is often the cause of many legal battles incurring tens of thousands of pounds of legal costs. Sometimes the encroachment is substantial; more often that not, however, the trespass is entirely out of proportion to the value of the land.

The first step when dealing with a boundary dispute is to check the title deeds. The plan at the Land Registry is not conclusive and will only provide a general guide as to where the boundary is unless the boundary has been formally determined or a boundary agreement entered into. 

The original conveyance which separated the land is the most important document which has to be interpreted both legally and in light of the physical features on the ground at the time. A boundary surveyor may be able to help with this.

A report from a surveyor should be obtained prior to issuing proceedings in order to try and resolve the dispute. The court will expect the parties to have attempted to resolve the dispute prior to commencing proceedings. A high-quality survey at an early stage could avoid the need for a lengthy dispute.

There are two ways in which boundary disputes can be resolved by the courts:

  1. either an application to the Land Registry where the matter will be referred to the Land Registry Division of the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) or;
  2.  proceedings in the County Court, or the parties can enter a boundary agreement.

Parties must also be alert to the principles of adverse possession. In respect of unregistered land, a “squatter” may have acquired title to their neighbour’s land if they have been in exclusive possession of the land for 12 years. In the case of registered land, adverse possession is permitted if a neighbour has been in possession for at least 10 years of land adjoining a general boundary and the squatter reasonably believed that they owned the land over that time.

Whilst court proceedings should be avoided if at all possible, on some occasions there is no alternative. For example, if a neighbour encroaches over an already small garden or trespasses over a boundary so as to prevent the owner from constructing an extension, then a small encroachment could well lead to a justifiable dispute.

What to do if you are involved in a neighbour dispute 

If you are involved in a neighbour dispute or would like further advice on any of the above or any other issues, please contact our specialist Dispute Resolution team. Neighbour disputes can be difficult, particularly as parties usually live next door to each other, and every effort should be made to resolve the dispute as amicably as possible. 

I can be contacted on 01268 244142 or laura.meers@birkettlong.co.uk.

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