Drawing A Line Under Boundary Disputes

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Earlier this year, The Times reported that an 81-year-old man who attacked his 57-year-old next-door neighbour with a rounders bat was spared going to prison after Judge Jonathan Fuller described their long-running boundary dispute as “handbags in the cul-de-sac[1].”

This sorry state of affairs illustrates how boundary disputes can escalate out of control.  According to news reports, the neighbours, Garry Prince, 57 and Peter Lane, 81 and his wife Sally, 66, loathed each other from the start.  The dispute involved a cement pillar that had been built on Mr Prince’s land.  Mr Prince argued the pillar was unlawful and wanted it removed so he could park his car more easily.

The dispute went to the county court, where the judge examined the boundary lines and declared the pillar was on the Lane’s property.  He ordered Mr Prince to pay £6,500 in damages and replace the post which he had removed.

Following several instances of verbal abuse, Mr Prince was slapped with a restraining order by the Lanes.  This expired in the autumn of 2015.

Matters came to a head in May 2016, when Mr Prince called Mrs Lane “ugly, fat and obese” and told her she would “get cancer and die.”  Mr Lane “lost it” and retrieved a rounders bat from his car.  He hit Mr Prince twice, causing minor injuries.

According to The Times, the judge said that both men were as bad as each other.

“From the CCTV it is clear you had the good sense not to hit him on the head with the bat, but then you hit him on the back of the leg. You didn’t have the presence of mind to ignore him or move away,” Judge Fuller said.

“What makes this sadder is you are not a couple of teenagers. Mr Lane, you are 81 years old and Mr Prince is a mature man. For two men to behave in that way is disgraceful.” He said that he was frustrated that he could not impose an order “which would ensure either both of you come to your senses or face some criminal sanction.”

Judge Fuller added: “In future I hope you both take the proper course of action. If there is harassment you will seek help and assistance from the authorities. Look to yourselves to see if you want a peaceful life or if you’re going to invite trouble.”

Sadly, the boundary dispute has taken a huge personal toll on the Lanes.  After the case, Mrs Lane commented: “I think losing the civil court case made him [Prince] worse. Now we have a 6ft wall, electronic gates and CCTV covering the whole house — it’s like being in Fort Knox. We can’t sell up because you have to tell people if you have any problems with neighbours.”

Boundary disputes – not for the fainthearted

Boundary disputes can be shockingly destructive to the financial and emotional well-being of those involved.  The Court of Appeal has even stated that solicitors have a duty to inform clients of alternative methods which can be used to resolve a boundary dispute, after ruling on a case in which parties had spent in excess of £500,000 arguing over a “few feet of muddy ditch[2].”

How boundaries are determined

A boundary can be physical or legal.  A physical boundary includes hedges, streams, rivers, walls and/or fences.

A legal boundary is one that can be identified in historical legal documents but is not seen on the ground.  It is an exact line and has no thickness; this may be because the landscape has changed over time and/or the boundary has been moved.

If an owner of land is asked to reference the boundary of their property, they are likely to point to a deed or today (more commonly) to a red outline drawn over a section of the Ordnance Survey map which is attached to the official copy registering the title with the Land Registry (the HMLR title plan).

However, section 60 Land Registration Act 2002, provides for a General Boundaries Rule.  This states the red line cannot be relied on to indicate the exact boundary of a property unless an application is made for it to be fixed via a Boundary Agreement.

If you and your neighbour are involved in a boundary dispute, a surveyor who specialises in boundaries may be required to determine what the true boundaries of the property are.  However, your neighbour may do the same, and each surveyor may come up with a conflicting conclusion.  This is why a number of boundary dispute cases end up in court.

Resolving your dispute through negotiation and mediation

Formal litigation should be a last resort.  An experienced solicitor will collate all the evidence and instruct a surveyor who will examine historical records, aerial photographs, and maps to determine the boundary.  If possible, both parties’ solicitors will attempt to resolve the dispute through negotiation and/or mediation, thereby avoiding the matter having to go to court.  In most situations, non-litigious dispute resolutions are successful.

Before getting caught up in a boundary dispute with your neighbour, think carefully about the possible consequences.  Often an informal chat can resolve any confusion over boundary matters, saving everybody time money and stress.  If this approach is unsuccessful, contact an experienced solicitor who can advise you on the most appropriate next steps.

Bennett Griffin are award-winning solicitors based in West Sussex with offices in central Worthing and Ferring.  Our experienced and specialist solicitors offer a comprehensive service and will work with you in an honest, considered, and practical manner.  Our residential property department is able to advise and assist you in relation boundary disputes.  Please contact us on 01903 229 999 or by email at info@bennett-griffin.co.uk for more information.

The information contained in this article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be legal advice. Professional advice should always be taken on the application of the law in any particular situation.

[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/handbags-in-the-cul-de-sac-as-neighbour-81-lashes-out-dcmkfgfqw

[2]  Gilks -v- Hodgson [2015] EWCA Civ 5 – Lord Justice Christopher Clarke stated: “If parties, or one of them, insist on litigating in this way, it is difficult for the court to cut short their wasteful endeavours, however much it may try to do so. I hope that the example of this litigation may encourage others who are concerned in like disputes (and, as importantly, those who advise them) to take every step that they can to avoid the absurd waste of effort, time and cost (for both parties) which this case has involved”.