Boundaries, fences and walls
Establishing the boundaries and ownership
If a dispute arises between neighbours about the boundary between their properties, it will be necessary to establish who owns the disputed land. The primary evidence will be contained in the legal documents.
However, the boundaries between properties can differ from those described in the title documents or lease in certain circumstances. The most common are where they have been changed by agreement or by encroachment (occupation without permission).
If you think that the boundaries are not defined in the title documents or lease, or that the boundaries have been changed by agreement or encroachment, you will need to get legal advice from a solicitor.
Duty to erect a barrier
Generally, as a property owner you do not have to erect and maintain any type of barrier, for example, a fence, wall, trellis or railing, around your property. Some of the exceptions include where:-
- there is a clause in the title documents or lease
- the property is next to a street and may cause danger
- the land is used for dangerous purposes, for example, storing chemicals
- a barrier is necessary to prevent animals, other than domestic pets, from straying.
Who can use or repair a barrier
In order to decide who can use or repair a barrier, it is first necessary to establish who owns it. The rules for working out ownership are the same as for other boundaries. In other words, the legal documents may specify who owns the fence, or you may have evidence that it belongs to you. Many people will tell you that you own the boundary at the back and to the left of your garden. However, this is not always the case.
If the barrier belongs to one owner, they can use it as they wish, without the neighbour’s consent, providing it is safe. The neighbour has no rights over the barrier. For example, they could not use it to support trailing plants without the owner’s permission. If a fence is jointly owned, each neighbour can use it for support, provided neither makes it unsafe. Any repairs should be financed jointly.
As a property owner you do not have to repair your barrier unless the title documents or lease contains such obligations. However, if the barrier causes damage or injury, your neighbour could take you to court for compensation and if the boundary becomes dangerous it is advisable to repair it immediately as you could become liable for any damaged caused by it.
If as a property owner you have a barrier next to the street, this should be kept in good repair to prevent it becoming a nuisance or danger to people using the street. If a passer-by is injured by the barrier, for example, if it has barbed wire, or falls down on someone in the street, that person can take you to court for compensation.
There are special rules covering structural work to walls which stand across the boundary of land belonging to different owners, or which are used by two or more owners to separate buildings. The owner must notify neighbours about any work they intend to carry out. These rules allow for the agreement or objection to any work within certain time limits, and compensation and temporary protection for buildings and property.
Planning restrictions on barriers
Planning permission is not generally needed before erecting a fence or wall, provided it is no more than one metre in height if next to a highway, or two metres elsewhere. If you wish to exceed these limits, you will need to get planning permission from the local authority. There are no planning restrictions on the height of hedges.
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