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The Wrong Way to Manage Boundary Disputes with Neighbours

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Minor boundary disputes between neighbours can escalate into bitter legal battles costing thousands if not dealt with carefully. Such stories appear regularly in the local and national news.

Although counter-intuitive, it is far better to seek legal advice at the early stages of a disagreement to clarify the legal position before hostilities arise than to wait until all reasonable communication has broken down. Experienced property lawyers will aim to keep costs down by seeking to resolve disputes as amicably and quickly as possible while providing a dispassionate approach to boundary issues.

Unfortunately, the parties involved often lose perspective in the red mist of boundary disputes and the costs soon outweigh any original benefit. A recent story about neighbours in Rothwell, Northamptonshire demonstrates the excesses that can occur once principles and passion override common sense and cost.

Court of Appeal Hears Dispute Over 3 Feet of Land

There can be few places in the UK where 3 feet of land carries enough value to warrant pursuing a legal claim all the way to the Court of Appeal. Sadly though a set of neighbours from Rothwell, Northamptonshire have done just that only to be told that the Court of Appeal could not settle it due to a conflict of evidence.

According to the BBC, John and Elizabeth Underwood made a claim over a passage way that had been blocked off and which lay adjacent to their garage, between their house and that of Stephen Mayers and Julia Smith. The Underwoods won their claim in Northampton County Court in 2013 and asserted their rights to "rather more than half" of the strip of land. The main evidence in their favour was eyewitness accounts which suggested that an elm tree had marked the boundary to the house in 1969.

Stephen Mayers and Julia Smith subsequently appealed the decision, presenting conflicting evidence in the form of aerial photographs. The absence of the tree in the photographs was claimed to be unreliable by the Underwoods due to it having been taken some time after the tree was cut down. The Court of Appeal declared it could not settle the case and sent it back to the County Court.

At this point, the neighbours collectively have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds.


The facts of this case highlight how boundary disputes can become acrimonious and costly beyond all proportion to the value of the land. It is therefore essential that neighbours retain a sense of perspective and seek advice from property lawyers experienced in managing these issues before they get out of hand.

For specialist advice contact Jane Canham today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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