Boundary disputes can prove awkward for everyone involved; the neighbours, the tenant and the landlord. Any arguments are uncomfortable but unfortunately, boundary issues are pretty common. Under the umbrella term of boundary disputes comes high hedges, dilapidated fences and walls and shared driveways, amongst others. In the modern day, people are living in much closer proximity with more properties and more cars squeezed into residential areas. The chance of running into some kind of issue with a neighbour is high. In rental properties, the majority of external and structural property issues are a landlord’s responsibility to handle. Fences that are falling down, walls that need repairs and queries about legal documents and land boundaries all fall to them to resolve, so it may be you as a landlord who ends up in a sticky situation if you’re not 100% clear on where your property’s boundaries start and end.
High hedges can become quite the bone of contention but luckily, for this reason, there is some legislation that can provide a solution. With any hedge related issues, it’s a good idea to speak to the neighbour about it first to let them know if it is becoming a problem. Give them the benefit of the doubt as they probably don’t realise that their hedge is having an effect.
If a neighbour has a very high hedge that is encroaching on your property, you are able to trim back any overhanging branches or foliage. If a hedge is very unkempt, with roots spreading to your property and becoming so high that it prevents sunlight from reaching the garden, it can become a real issue. In this case, again speak to the neighbour and try to come to a compromise. If the hedge is rooted in a neighbours property, is made up of a minimum of two trees or shrubs, is more than two metres tall and is obstructing light or views, then you can contact your local council and ask them to resolve the issue.
Many properties have partition walls or fences dividing them from neighbours and the legal documents obtained when purchasing the respective properties will detail which walls belong to who. If the neighbour owns the wall or fence, they are the only ones who can make any changes, such as painting it for example. If you request any changes to be made to the wall or fence, the neighbour does not have to take action. If the wall or fence is structurally dangerous however, it will need to be fixed; whether it’s your responsibility or the neighbours. If your neighbour asks you to fix it - or vice versa - and nothing is done about it, the council can take action against the person responsible. Dangerous walls or fences can be reported here.
With shared driveways, always consult title documents such as the Land Registry title plan and your title deeds. They will include all the details surrounding use. A shared driveway is usually owned by each of the homes involved, and the maintenance of the entire driveway shared by all properties. In slightly more complicated cases, the driveway might be owned by one property but legal access is given to anyone who needs to use it.
In all cases, common law dictates that a shared driveway should be used reasonably. So what if your tenant’s access is being blocked by their neighbour? Always encourage them to speak to the neighbour about the issue first and foremost, or perhaps offer to speak to the neighbour for them. Nine times out of ten, an agreement can be reached that will keep all parties happy. If not, then your tenant could be entitled to seek an injunction and/or damages for substantial interference with their right of way over the property.
Communication is key. Boundary disputes can usually be avoided by a simple discussion, preferably between you and the neighbour, as opposed to the tenant and the neighbour. The majority of the time, it will just come down to a simple misunderstanding. The most important thing to remember is that any animosity or negativity between you and the neighbour or your tenant and the neighbour could easily lead to more problems and an unhappy tenancy. Awareness is also important. Be aware of what you are responsible for and let your tenant know. However don’t let them make any changes to structural elements of the property that could affect the neighbours, because it’ll be partially your issue to fix.
If communication just isn’t cutting it, the local council can intervene however this will usually come at a fee and they can refuse involvement if they don’t think that you or the tenant has done all you can to informally resolve the dispute first. With hedge issues, the council can impose a remedial notice to the neighbour. A remedial notice requires the hedge owner to remedy the problem and prevent it from recurring. Failure to comply can result in a fine up to £1000. To avoid any kind of neighbourly disputes, try and build up a good rapport with the property’s neighbours. Even if they clash with your tenants, it’s good to have a solid relationship of your own with them to fall back on. Educate yourself on where your property boundaries are and what you are responsible for, and take these responsibilities seriously. In doing that, there’s no reason why you should get caught up dealing with boundary disputes.