Verdict of the Week

Disputes between neighbours

Disputes between neighbours are one of the most common reasons that people go to court. Here, at eCourt we are going to try and guide you through a few of the more common causes and suggest ways where you may be able to avoid finding yourselves in a full-on war with the folk next door.

Boundary disputes that are at the centre of most of the biggest arguments between neighbouring homeowners. These disputes can range between anything from overhanging trees, fence repairs or new walls positioned close or onto next door's land.

But, no matter how angry you are, before you go marching over and ruffling everybody's feathers, it is always best to make sure that you know your rights and that you acting within the confines of the law. Because if you act too hastily and get it wrong, you are setting yourself down a long road of conflict with your neighbour which may well be an innocent misunderstanding.

One of the biggest sources of cross border contention are trees and shrubbery. It could be an overhanging branch, a wayward root, blocked views or light being cut out.

The most common response when you find an overhanging branch in your garden is to simply chop it off and lob it back over the fence. But, although you may be within your rights to do this is not necessarily a good move to do so. It is very aggressive and you could find that if you've damaged the tree as a whole, that you might be liable.

Try to catch it before it becomes an issue, spot which shrubs are starting to overgrow and try to mention it early on before they become too much of a nuisance. Approach it casually and in as friendly a manner as possible the first time. Invite them over for a drink and just mention it in passing that it is starting to intrude and would they mind if you pruned it back, or ask if they could do it.

Unbelievably, there are actually no clear guidelines about pruning a neighbours overgrowing greenery, so the more that you can settle amicably, the better it will be. There is even a specialist website for Leylandii trees at which covers much of this in more detail.

If it does start to get tricky, it's a good idea to try an independent resolution service, like eCourt, before taking the matter into the hands of a legal representative. It will always stand you in good stead to show that you did try to be reasonable and to seek an amicable solution before getting the courts involved.

Another big problem area is fences. These have much clearer guidelines and have to be less than 6 feet high, otherwise they require planning permission. Walls and fences often cause trouble when they fall into disrepair and arguments raged over who owns them and who is liable for their repair. This information is usually quickly solved by consulting the title deeds, and, even if there is no specific mention of the problem, there is usually a suggested way of settling unspecified problems that may occur. Always check these fully before storming over and taking a pick axe to your neighbour's wall.

Neighbours who build extensions close to other homes often cause major ruckuses. Often it is a privacy issue and very commonly it is because one neighbour believes that the new extension will block out their light. But be careful here, as this is a bit of an urban myth, as there are very limited rights to stop extensions because they block light close to your home, as this usually only applies if you live in a flat.

The best way to object to next door building a new extension that you feel will block your light is to register your objections as strongly as you can at the planning stage, because once it is built you can't do much about it. So, once again, early action is the key to avoiding lengthy and costly disputes.

Conversely, if it is you that is building the extension, get your neighbours involved at the planning stage, ask them how they would feel, if they have any objections or suggestions. More often than not, these disputes arise simply because the neighbour showed no respect to how their actions may affect the people surrounding them. Show early respect, save later regret.

You can also visit where there is lots of good information about all this sort of thing and guides on using title deeds to resolve them.

As always in these matters, the best tactic if you find yourself on the wrong end of a dispute is to remain calm and try to be reasonable at all times. This will stand well for you if there is an escalation, especially if you can show that you offered several different ways of solving the problem first.

If the polite approach doesn't work, put it in writing. Again, try to avoid contentious remarks or character insults and just stick to the plain facts. Try to remain as neutral as possible and give it to someone who isn't emotionally involved, to read through first, to give you some feedback on it. Also allow the neighbour a reasonable time to respond wherever possible.

If neither of these approaches work, try getting your local council involved. Many councils have a specialised community service for things like boundary disputes. If they don't have one you can always try a dispute resolution service like eCourt, where both sides can submit their side of the dispute and a sensible independent resolution can be found.

But if none of this works and you really have no option but to bring in a law, then contact a friendly solicitor. Specialist boundary dispute lawyers can be found on the website, which have a list of local property lawyers near you.


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