‘Most common’ garden disputes – how to find out which fence you own

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There’s nothing worse than noisy neighbours who ignore pleas to turn down the volume or a neighbour blocking sunlight from a garden following plans to extend their home. In some cases these problems can be resolved by having a polite conversation, however some people can become aggressive or rude when being confronted. If this is the case, Matthew Cotton, Barrister and Specialist in Dispute Resolution at Hedges Law, has shared how households can resolve these neighbour disputes.

1. Noise disputes

When trying to relax at home, it can become impossible for those with nightmare neighbours, especially when they are noisy.

Approximately half of all neighbour disputes relate to noise, according to Matthew. He recommended that If households are facing difficulties with noisy neighbours, first try talking to them about the problem, or writing them a letter, asking them to stop the noise.  

However, if this approach fails, the expert advised: “Get in touch with your local council to get a noise abatement notice or look to seek an injunction and/or compensation through the courts.” Britons can find out which is their local council by using the gov.uk’s local authority checker tool.

2. Access

Shared driveways or other accessways can be the cause of many neighbour disputes, and they often cause a daily nuisance for those involved. Luckily, Matthew has shared how this can be resolved.

He explained: “If you own the land over which an easement – ‘a right exercised over a piece of land or property for the benefit of another’ – exists, you cannot interfere with that right of way, for example, installing a gate with no key. But if you benefit from a right of access to your property which is being blocked, you could seek an injunction and/or compensation through the courts.”

To be able to take legal action against the person causing the inconvenience, the blockage must be a substantial interference.

3. Ownership of the garden fence

The ownership of a fence is “one of the most common questions in neighbour disputes”, claimed the expert.  He said: “It’s very important to remember that there is a difference between ownership of the fence (i.e., who it belongs to), and the obligation to maintain it (i.e., who must repair or replace it). 

“The answer will often be found within the title deeds to the properties involved.” However, it is also worth bearing in mind that the fence may not be in the same position as the legal boundary – which is “another issue entirely”.

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4. Pruning of overhanging branches over the boundary

Owners of land are allowed to prune branches which overhang into their property up to the boundary line. However, before doing this, Matthew urged gardeners to speak to their neighbour about their intentions – especially if there may be a question about where the boundary exists. 

He warned: “Pruning or lopping off the branches of another person’s tree or plant which then causes damage could lead to a costly property damage claim. 

“Plus, technically speaking, you should offer the pruned branches to the owner of the tree when cut (and not throw them back over the fence).”

5. Japanese knotweed issues 

Japanese knotweed can lead to a “minefield of legal problems”, but the “important thing to remember” is not to disturb the plant as causing it to spread into the wild is “a criminal offence”.  

Matthew explained: “There are numerous civil claims which can result from Japanese knotweed, including landowners seeking an injunction for its removal, compensation for the reduction in value of the properties which are impacted. 

“Those affected by the infestation should seek immediate advice from a specialist on what steps are required to eradicate it, and then they should speak to a dispute lawyer about the issues stemming from it.”

6. Rubbish bin disputes

Concerns over rubbish bins often requires getting the Environmental Health involved to assess the severity of the problem. If the smell from a neighbouring property is causing a nuisance, the expert said that it is best to speak to the local council or a dispute lawyer to resolve the issue. 

He said: “This may require an injunction either stopping your neighbour from acting in a particular way or ordering them to take remedial action.”

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7. Blocking a neighbour’s light

For those looking to extend their house, install a loft conversion, or use the garden to build a shed, garage or outbuilding, it could affect a neighbour’s “right to light” which is the amount of light they receive. 

Matthew explained: “A right to light prevents the person wishing to build from reducing the amount or passage of light to another person’s window or aperture.”

“Legally, right to light is defined as ‘if daylight passes across one piece of land to a window or other aperture in a building on another piece of land, the owner of the land with the building on it may eventually acquire a right to light. This is a right to prevent the owner of the first land reducing the amount or passage of light to that window or aperture’.

“A right to light can be a big cause of disputes and must be adhered to as interference of this right can result in the affected neighbour or landowner seeking an injunction and/or compensation.”

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