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Neighbours and the way they live can be a great help and at other times not so much. Here we look at some of the common problems we can be asked to give advice on.
Boundary fences and walls are the most ‘popular’ topics for discussion if there are problems with a neighbour. Generally, the problem is more acute with terraced and semi detached properties or where the property is part of a larger and sometimes older development.
- It is important to ascertain the extent and location of any boundary fences. Always check to see if these accord with any plan of the property. If you do not have a plan check your deeds or apply for an up-to-date copy from the Land Registry.
- If there is doubt about the exact location of the boundary you can find a useful guide on the Land Registry website – click here. Bear in mind that physical marks such as fence posts can indicate the location and ownership of a boundary structure.
- Where the boundary is marked with a ‘T’ it means that the boundary is owned by the neighbour on whose land the ‘T’ is marked. Whilst this means they may have to pay to repair fencing it does not always mean they can be forced to do the repair or that they have to put the fence up if it is not already there!
- If there are no markings or other indicators of ownership there may be some useful historical information. Otherwise if the fence is on your side of the boundary line it will generally belong to you and if on your neighbours side then it will belong to the neighbour.
- The right to claim land after a period of occupation for 12 years or more (known as adverse possession/squatters rights), may be available. Those rights can vary depending on the time the adverse possession started. The Land Registry provides leaflets for further information. This is a complex area of law and a claim can be difficult but see here for more information.
- Some disputes arise where the boundary is a high hedge. This law allows a neighbour affected by a high hedge (usually Leylandii) to apply to the local council for their assistance in resolving any disputes. There is a fee to pay and this is set by your local authority. The council, under the provisions does have the power to order a high hedge to be reduced and to fine the owner but not to order any compensation to be paid. A useful guide to making a complaint to your council can be found here.
Noisy neighbours can severely affect your enjoyment of your property. The test is whether or not that noise is unreasonable. Each case will depend on its facts. At the first instance you should try to talk to your neighbour and see if the matter can be resolved amicably.
If not it may be possible to seek one of the following remedies:
- Contact your local authority and complain. This will usually be dealt with by the environmental health department. If the noise is persistent they may require you to keep a diary of events and where necessary measure the level of noise. In some cases a Noise Abatement Order may be issued which can ultimately be enforced by the magistrates' court. Only a very small number of cases result in any prosecution.
- A private civil application to the county court to seek an injunction to prevent further noise. This can be a costly and lengthy process involving a lot of supporting evidence from witnesses or expert opinion. These applications should be used as a last resort.
- Enquire about local mediation groups. These are often an alternative to more traditional methods of resolution. Your local authority should have a list of any in your area.
Should a neighbour enter without permission they will have committed an act of trespass. This is not a criminal office. If the trespass continues on a regular basis it may be possible to take court proceedings in order to prevent future trespass.
This can be time consuming and costly option and should usually be seen as a last resort.
There is no automatic right to light in law. It can be acquired over a period of time and could be infringed (in the eyes of the law) by a man made structure. Therefore if the light in your house is reduced by a neighbour's tree, this is not actionable but if it is reduced by an extension it may be actionable. What type of remedy may be available would depend on the facts.
Trees can cause a nuisance in a number of ways; overhanging branches, invasive roots or blocking light. Whilst trees are desirable in many locations it is often the case that a tree may have become too large or too old for its present position.
Where the tree is on your neighbour's land and the branches overhang onto your land; this may amount to trespass. If the neighbour is unwilling to cut the branches, you can do so. Whilst the wood should be returned to your neighbour i.e. by placing the removed branches over the fence, this is likely to cause even more aggravation and should perhaps be disposed of elsewhere. In addition falling branches may lead to a claim in negligence.
When dealing with any work to trees always check to see if they are subject to a Tree Preservation Order or if you are in a conservation area. If either apply you may need to obtain the consent of your local authority for the proposed work.
Where the roots from a neighbour's tree encroach on to your land this can also be a trespass. This may also cause damage to drains and / or foundations. Such a claim can involve your insurer.
Where you need access to your neighbour's property to undertake repairs to your own, your neighbour's consent will be required. If your neighbour will not allow this it is possible to make and application to the County Court under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992.
It is a statutory right to have the necessary access provided you can establish a need for it. You may also have to undertake to repair any damage you may cause in exercising your right of access.
This right of access is not available where it is required to build or develop a property i.e erect an extension.
CCTV cameras are becoming increasingly popular as a way of protecting property. The Data Protection Act 1998 regulates CCTV surveillance carried out in many circumstances. To enquire whether the Act does apply you should make contact with the Information Commissioner where it may be possible to assess whether the use of the CCTV is in breach of the Act. More information can be found here.
If you experience a water leak at your property which you believe may be coming from a neighbour’s property there are several things you may need to do:
- Identify, as soon as possible, the cause of the leak so that the water may be turned off to prevent damage. Water is a sometimes a difficult hazard to easily identify as it can ‘escape’ some distance from the source.
- If your neighbour is not in and the leak is significant you may need to arrange emergency access to the property. This may involve talking to other neighbours or the freeholder, and in extreme circumstances the emergency services.
- If there is damage to your property as a result of the leak it may be covered by insurance, either the buildings insurance or your contents insurance may help.
It is not always the case that your neighbour will be responsible for the cost of the repair. Generally, if the leak is a one off event, it will not be classed as a nuisance or be the result of any negligence, therefore your neighbour will not be liable for the damage caused.
Other areas that may be of interest.