Lord Justice Mummery’s comments came after the end of a long legal dispute between two neighbours over a small strip of gravel between their homes.

The details of the dispute are less important than the fact that Lord Justice Mummery felt the cost of legal action for both sides was out of all proportion to the value of the land in dispute.

He said such actions lead to immeasurable human misery: “The court would be failing in its duty if it did not draw on the extensive experience to warn others that the only certainty in this kind of case is that the financial outlay is almost always more than the disputed property is worth.”

It is always better for disputes to be settled amicably with neighbours communicating one to one in a civilised manner, but if this is not possible, both sides
should seek professional advice before attitudes begin to harden.

Clarification of the legal position may help resolve the problem right at the outset.

For example, you may not want your neighbour to come on to your land to carry out repairs but he may be entitled to do so if a legal right of entry is specified in the property’s legal documents. Even if there is no automatic entitlement, he can still apply to the County Court for an access order allowing him to enter your land.

Boundary disputes can often be resolved simply by referring to the title or lease documents. If they are not clear then it may be necessary to call in a solicitor or surveyor who should be able to help you reach a sensible solution.

The same applies to shared amenities such as drains and pipes, driveways and roofs. Your right to use them and your responsibility to maintain them should be laid down in the property’s legal documents.

The situation may be more complicat
ed if a person’s right to use a facility such as a chimney, for example, to erect an aerial is not written down but has become established through long and continuous use. If that use has not been challenged over the years then it could become an entitlement.

If problems persist then there are still things you can do before heading for the courts. Lord Justice Mummery urged people to use mediation with the help of specialists such as solicitors and surveyors. This has several advantages.

It will be far cheaper than court action and less stressful. Trained mediators can help bring both parties together to negotiate a settlement that is fair to both

If agreement still can’t be reached then litigation may become necessary. However, it is vital to ensure that the dispute doesn’t escalate to a point where the costs involved are out of proportion to the value of the claim.

Please contact us if you would like more inf
ormation about dealing with neighbour disputes.

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