Is it worth ever taking legal action against your neighbour?

Property Reporter
26th April 2022
Question 901

Are homeowners risking “throwing money away” by taking legal action against their neighbours? A marked rise in the number of disputes over the past 12 months has prompted one property expert to question if it's actually worth it in the long run.

Jonathan Rolande's warning comes days after reports revealed one couple had been forced to remortgage their home after going into debt following a decade-long legal battle over six inches of land with their neighbours.

Philip New, 52, and his wife Denise New, 47, are now covering the costs of a boundary dispute going back to 2012 with neighbours at their property in Benfleet, Essex. The neighbours argued that the fence was in the wrong place and should be further into the couple's garden.

Jonathan, from the National Association of Property Buyers, said each case he'd come across had one thing in common: "You tend to find the only people who win are the solicitors.

“Homeowners entering into disputes with neighbours risk throwing their money away. Worse still, beginning a dispute with a neighbour can have repercussions far beyond the legal costs. Sellers must disclose any formal dispute to a potential buyer - failure to do so could result in yet more legal wrangling.

"Very few buyers want to take on somebody else's problem and most will walk away. Expect those that are willing to buy despite knowing the issues to want a hefty discount. My advice is therefore to try and rise above petty disputes if you can. There are usually no winners in an argument between neighbours.”

Jonathan conceded there will be times disputes between households will “inevitably” escalate. Offering his advice on how to prevent things from getting out of hand he has produced this eight-point guide:

1: Remember. There is almost no such thing as a 'winnable case' with neighbours – legal costs can be horrendous and even if victorious, you'll have to live next door to someone you've had a fight with in court. Avoid at all costs!

2: Try to keep it amicable. Unless your neighbour is being unreasonable, it's better to shrug your shoulders and be flexible when it comes to a few inches of land or who pays for what on the boundary.

3: Before you move in, get as much clarity as you can on who owns what and who pays for it. Fences are common problems as they are often vaguely allocated on the deeds. I have seen arguments break out over the width of a drawn line on Victorian deeds.

4: Take out legal expenses cover on your home insurance – it may help if the worst happens.

5: Avoid planting fast-growing conifers on boundaries unless you're prepared to keep them maintained. These seem to cause endless rows.

6: Before you buy a home, check the plants on the other side of the fence and hope you don't see conifers, bamboo or Japanese Knotweed.

7: If things get tricky, use a mediation service before you run to a solicitor. 

8: Remember that any dispute that's in writing or is serious, will need to be declared when you sell. That's likely to deter an ordinary buyer but professional buyers or landlords won't be so worried – but the price might be impacted.

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