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Border Patrol

The green bin is never put out less than 100% full in my household in the autumn. Many of us will be having a big garden tidy-up at this time of year, cutting back perennials and pruning like stink. As shrubs get cut back, garden fences may be exposed, and need some fettling and repair to survive the wintry weather to come. Perhaps even a coat of preservative may be applied.

When considering works to fences and other boundary structures, it’s important to bear in mind the old wisdom that good fences make for good neighbours. Any regular reader of a newspaper will know that when neighbours fall out about the line of the boundary, cases which make it all the way to Court can cost dearly. In many cases, the protagonists end up having to sell their homes to meet the legal bills.

Clearly talking is better than arguing, and mediating a dispute is preferable to litigating one. Having no dispute at all is always best, and it is well worth playing safe to avoid sparking one off.

There are a few tips I can pass on from the perspective of a homeowner, and as someone who handles a reasonable amount of these disputes.

Keeping fences on, or clearly inside of the right line is very important.

When a court is asked to rule on where the boundary falls, most people expect and know that it will look at the deeds. In this digital age, the Land Registry holds little by way of ancient vellum with copperplate writing.

It’s all online, scanned, electronic imagery now. So – keep the pre-registration deeds and documents which your conveyancer sends you very safe.

The court will want to see the original deed when your plot was first sold – to help it find out what the original seller & buyer intended to be the boundary. Sometimes the plans have measurements, sometimes not. Sometimes they are nicely scaled, sometimes a freehand drawing.

Sometimes, the measurements don’t tie in at all with what has been on the ground for years and years. The reliability of most plans on original conveyances is regularly exposed as less than 100%.

The Court, once it has looked at the deeds, will then look at what was on the ground – again when the plot was first sold.

Most homes were once part of a field, or another garden, or similar, and old boundary features from this original time are extremely relevant. If fences were erected when your house was built, with the plot being carved out of some larger plot of land, it can be very important to know where those fences ran.

So, it is very wise to preserve those original fenceposts as much as possible, and where they have to be rooted out, to retain photographic evidence of their precise location. You could always pretend to be photographing a snail or something..

It’s always a good idea to make sure your neighbours agree with your view of where the boundary lies. However, it’s also important to bear in mind that future neighbours might not share those views, whatever you agree informally today. Many disputes arise after a property has changed hands – perhaps when a new owner wants to build adjacent to or on the boundary.

The key information is held in the historic picture, which can be obtained from deeds and original structures, from old pictures, the recollections of former owners and other historical sources.

So – before you root out the rotten post stumps or concrete footings, it might be prudent to consider how you would satisfy a court that you’re not crossing the border, before replacing your boundary fences or hedges.

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