Fences and extensions - 1 in 3 bickers with neighbours over property

New research has revealed that Brits do not understand their rights to object to unwanted development of their neighbours’ property, leading to thousands of feuds every year.

Related topics:  Property
Amy Loddington
31st July 2015

The most common issues that neighbours argued about are removing or repairing fences (37%), boundary disputes (33%), chopping down trees (30%) and building an extension (18%).

Ten per cent had also argued with their neighbour over painting the outside of their home, similar to the case of Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring from Kensington in London who recently painted red stripes across her property upsetting her neighbours.

But despite 81 per cent admitting they are not fully aware of their legal rights to object to changes, just under half said they would want to complain to the council and one in ten said they would want to take legal action if they weren’t properly consulted about a change to their neighbours’ property. 

The survey of 2,000 homeowners by property law specialists Slater and Gordon has exposed confusion about how and when to consult with neighbours over proposed changes and what people should do if they oppose changes.

One in ten people said they wouldn’t bother talking to their neighbour before making a change.

Complex property language put 48 per cent of homeowners off confronting their neighbours about an unwanted change to a nearby property, while more than half (54 per cent) said they would not be confident about the legal process involved in challenging their neighbours. Forty-seven per cent said they would not know who to speak to if they were unhappy about a change.

Samantha Blackburn, Head of Residential Property at Slater and Gordon said:

“I’m not surprised that so many people don’t know what to do if they are unhappy about changes their neighbours are making to their home.

“It’s always preferable to be able to resolve minor issues, such as replacing a fence or cutting down a tree, informally.

“However, when it comes to major changes to a neighbouring home, or disputes over boundaries, it may be necessary to contact your local authority and in some cases take legal advice.”

The research also revealed that 19 per cent of homeowners would expect their neighbour to consult with them over a new garden structure like a shed, play house or tree house, while three in five expected to make contact over plants that grew across the boundary between houses.

Homeowners were overwhelmingly concerned about their neighbours’ building projects blocking the light into their homes and gardens, with two thirds citing an extension that could potentially block out their “light” as the number one concern.

Five in eight said they would expect their neighbours to consult with them over any issue that could affect their boundary, such as fences. Forty-three per cent said they would want to discuss access rights to their property and 40 per cent said the noise and mess of getting the builders in would be a cause for concern.

Getting along with the neighbours is a priority for most people, with 94 per cent saying they want a good relationship with the people next door. However, just a quarter said they’d consider their neighbour a friend.

Samantha Blackburn, Head of Residential Property Law at Slater and Gordon said: 

“The best way to resolve issues between neighbours is to try to avoid having them in the first place so I always advise my clients to be friendly and respectful towards their neighbours.

“Of course in some cases, such as with fences, overhanging trees, shared gardens or rights of access, homeowners will need to speak to one another about how to rectify certain problems. In my experience as a property lawyer, I have found the best way forward in these situations is to keep the channels of communication open. However, if neighbours cannot agree on how to resolve these issues it may be necessary to take legal advice.

“Many homeowners still don’t know much about their rights when it comes to opposing local development or even their neighbours’ plans to add to or alter their homes.

“I would advise anyone concerned about any of these issues to contact their local authority in the first instance and ask for advice from a planning perspective. Often it’s as simple as lodging your opposition and outlining the reasons for this. It won’t always stop the change, but you can take the opportunity to ask your local authority for further information about what is planned, timescales and whether the change will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting.

“I would also advise that they liaise with their lawyer who should be able to do some research and look at the title to the neighbouring property and see if there is anything in those title documents that means the proposed alteration needed consent from anyone before it took place.” 

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