The Best Defence against Boundary Disputes
Or how a dispute between millionaire neighbours over a strip of land at the bottom of their gardens ended in the police being called after one set fire to the other’s trees, causing his greenhouse to burn down?
Good fences make good neighbours, according to US poet Robert Frost, who used the line in his early work Mending Wall.
Independent window broker, You Choose Windows mentioned that all too often neighbours go to war over fences and other boundary markings. In the case of millionaire neighbours Gerald Mead and Neville Williams, the dispute started when Neville asked to cut down “horrible, manky old trees” planted 20 years previously by Gerald and replace them with a conifer screen.
Gerald objected and after attempts to resolve the argument failed, Neville felled the trees when his neighbour was on holiday. The row between the neighbours in Surrey ended in the police being called when Neville was said to have bared his bottom at Gerald and his wife Heather, which was captured on camera.
Gerald is quoted as saying: “He cut the trees down and he has made the once-tidy border look a mess. Now neither of us has any privacy from one another. “I used to love coming home, I chose to live in Kingswood because the area offers privacy and tranquillity. It’s what I’ve worked for all my life.”
When it comes to disputes about fences or trees, many people are surprised to learn that there’s no law about who owns the boundaries around your home. In other words, which side of the fence, walls or hedges you are responsible for.
Not only are there no hard and fast rules about who is responsible for maintaining boundary fences, there is often no obligation on anyone to maintain them.
To prevent disputes escalating to the point where the police are forced to intervene, it is advisable for property owners to establish who owns any boundary fence.
First, check the property deeds to establish whether there are any boundary agreements in place. Alternatively, consult the Land Registry for information on who owns a boundary fence.
If the fence is built entirely on your land, in the absence of something in the title deeds, the fence is all yours and it is up to you whether or not to maintain it. The reverse applies if the fence is built entirely on your neighbour’s land.
But more often than not, it is not clear exactly which side of the boundary the fence is built on, or the fence is built down the boundary line. If nothing has been previously been agreed, consult with your neighbour to set up an agreement you are both happy with.
But beware. If you and your neighbour fail to agree who owns the fence – or you decide that you both own it – one party cannot force the other to pay for repairs without agreement.
While the focus of many disputes between neighbours is often a boundary fence, the reason why a property’s windows provide a perfect view of a warzone has little to do with whether the boundary marker is a traditional New England picket fence, formal spear-topped black ironwork or even a variety of lapboard panels with decorative capping.
Take the woman who put up a fence made out of tea towels, rags, ribbons, garden rubbish and socks. The cause of that dispute was warring neighbours Gloria Reid and Clark and Mary Pickering training more than a dozen CCTV cameras on each other.
As fence-builder extraordinaire Gloria explains: “Putting those rags on the fence is me saying: ‘You want something to look at? Look at that’. “If I could guarantee that my neighbours would leave me alone then I would take down the fence in a flash. It’s there to protect my privacy.”