Where do we draw the line in boundary disputes?

21 Apr 2017

The Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill has been sent to the committee stage at the House of Lords for consideration after being read for a second time in December last year. The Bill proposes a new dispute resolution procedure for boundary and rights of way disputes with a view to reducing time and costs. It is modelled on that currently used in party wall disputes.

Boundary disputes are seldom solely about the boundary. These disputes are renowned for attracting legal fees which extend far beyond the proportionality of the land in dispute. It is not uncommon for these neighbourly disputes to arise out of a point of principle which lead to deep-rooted and entrenched positions as ‘every Englishman’s home is his castle’.

When the case eventually lands in front of a judge, it is not unusual to see the parties reprimanded for not taking a sensible approach without recourse to the courts. These disputes are often time-consuming and expensive affairs for courts and parties alike.

The Bill would enable a neighbour to serve notice to a neighbour/beneficiary with a plan illustrating the purported extent of the boundary/right of way. If consent is not given within 14 days then the parties appoint an agreed joint surveyor who can make a decision  and settle the dispute ‘on the ground’. The parties have 28 days to appeal to the High Court or else the finding will be deemed conclusive. 

However, commentators have noted that the Bill does not appear to take into account the complexity of boundary disputes which often involve a number of legal issues which fall outside the remit of a lone surveyor.

The Bill only offers a bordered compulsory alternative dispute resolution with no inclusion of other methods such as mediation. Also, it appears that no consideration has been given to when a neighbourly landowner cannot be identified.

However, although met with criticism, the Bill is a welcome attempt to avoid acrimonious and costly court battles. We shall be keeping an ear to the ground over the next year to see how the Bill endures the amendment process of the committee stage.

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