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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Boundary disputes

Make sure you know where your land ends and your neighbour’s begins.  Disputes over boundaries can cause formerly friendly relationships to sour. In a boundary dispute the best course of action is to try to settle the problem amicably. If an amicable solution is not possible you will probably need to hire a solicitor to look into the issue for you.

Work out the position of the boundary

The first step to resolving the dispute is to establish exactly where the boundary lies. Your deeds or lease should clearly outline the boundaries. The boundaries may be different from those outlined on your deeds or lease if:

  • previous owners have agreed to alter the boundaries. Get legal advice to work out whether the agreement is legally binding on you.
  • your neighbour has been using your land continuously for at least the last 12 years. This is known as adverse possession. The law about this is very complicated, you should get specialist legal advice.

The boundaries aren't outlined in the lease or deeds

If the boundaries are not outlined in the deeds or lease there may be a legal presumption as to their position. A presumption can be contradicted if other evidence can be produced. Some common examples are:-

  • flats: the flat is normally taken to include its external walls, even if the landlord has obligations to do external repairs.
  • fences: if a fence is supported by upright posts on one side, it is normally taken to belong to the owner on that side
  • party walls: these are walls dividing terraced or semi-detached houses or flats. Generally they are assumed to be divided down the middle, with half belonging to each owner. Repairs are usually undertaken at joint expense
  • hedges and ditches: if two properties are separated by a hedge and ditch both are presumed to belong to the owner on the hedge side. If there is only a hedge or ditch, there is no presumption.

Collect as much evidence as possible if there is no definition or presumption about the position of the boundary. This could include plans, photographs or correspondence between adjoining owners over a number of years.

Fences and barriers

You usually don't have to build any type of barrier around your property unless:

  • your deeds state that you must have a barrier around your property,
  • you are placing visitors to your property in danger by not having a barrier in place,
  • you are storing dangerous objects on your property,
  • you are carrying out building work close to the street.

You don't have to keep your barrier in good repair unless it states that you must in your deeds. However, if the barrier causes damage or injury the other person could take a civil case against you. A passer-by injured by your barrier could take a case against you.

You aren't allowed to enter a neighbour's property to repair a fence unless:

  • the deeds of both properties allow this, or
  • the neighbour gives permission.

You could be trespassing if you enter your neighbour’s land without permission.

Planning restrictions on erecting fences and barriers

You don't need planning permission before erecting a fence or wall, provided it's less than one metre high if next to a road, or two metres everywhere else. You will need planning permission if you wish to build a taller fence. You won't need planning permission for a hedge.

Keeping costs down

The cost of resolving a boundary dispute can vary wildly depending on whether it can be resolved without legal involvement. Solving your boundary problem can take half an hour with a discussion over the garden fence, or it can take up to five years if the matter goes to court. Getting into a legal battle with a neighbour can also cause lots of stress.

If you want to solve your dispute while keeping costs down you and your neighbour should:

  • remain on good terms throughout,
  • accept that neither of you actually knows precisely where the boundary is,
  • work out the factors that have led to the dispute,
  • negotiate a settlement between yourselves,
  • use surveyors and solicitors wisely,
  • try to avoid taking the matter to court - if you cannot resolve your dispute between yourselves then use mediation,
  • ask the Land Registry to record the new boundary that you have agreed upon.