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Overstepping the boundary – hope at last for resolving boundary disputes

Boundary disputes are often hotly contested, stressful and costly.  Fortunes have been spent by neighbours in dispute over relatively modest amounts of land, sometimes over just a few feet of garden.  For neighbours who find themselves in a dispute over their boundaries at present the only solutions are, in the absence of a negotiated settlement, limited to going to Court or the Land Registry, both of which are costly.

It is high time something was done to bring some sanity to how boundary disputes are resolved.  The problem has finally been recognised and the law is expected to be changed by the Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill.

The aim of the Bill is to create a mandatory dispute resolution scheme for resolving boundary disputes as well as rights of way disputes.  It is very similar to the existing mandatory scheme for resolving party wall disputes brought in by the Party Wall Etc Act 1996.  Progress in making the Bill law has been slow but it is now widely expected to become law in the not too distant future

In brief, the new mandatory boundary scheme will be initiated by one neighbour serving a formal notice on the other enclosing a plan indicating where they believe the boundary line is.  If the respondent neighbour objects, then a dispute is deemed to automatically arise.  Both parties then either select one agreed surveyor or each party will select a surveyor, who will then jointly select a third surveyor.  Should access be denied to allow the surveyor entry onto the land, then this will be a criminal offence.  The surveyor’s job is to determine the dispute and set out their decision by way of an award.  The award will also deal with who should pay the costs of the dispute.  The findings of the agreed surveyor will be treated as being conclusive, unless one of the parties appeals within 28 days to the High Court.  When the 28 day appeal period expires with no appeal being made, then the parties will be required to submit the award to the Land Registry which will then be noted on both titles.

Opinions between surveyors and lawyers are currently divided over how effective the new law will be and how it will work in practice.  Only time will tell but many will at least welcome the attempt at trying to tackle, and find an easier way to resolve, this often destructive type of dispute.

At Bolt Burdon, our Property Litigation solicitors are able to advise clients on boundary issues.  We are able to assist clients on how to navigate through any boundary disputes through the use of cost effective methods such as commissioning expert boundary surveyors, and using negotiations and mediation, with Court proceedings or tribunal applications being used only as a last resort.

If you wish to discuss any issues relating to boundaries, then please contact one of our solicitors in the Property Disputes team here.

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