Boundary disputes can become extremely hostile and may persist for years, sometimes being passed down through generations. This can create misery for those involved, and can even reduce the value of the property.
It is, therefore, better to resolve a boundary dispute sooner, rather than later. This is best achieved via negotiations and mediation. If an amicable approach is not effective, the final resort is to pursue litigation through the courts.
How do I confirm a property boundary?
The best way to confirm the legal boundary of your property is to assess the deed records. These are held at the Registry of Deeds. Not every property in Ireland will have deed records because the system operates on a voluntary registration basis.
If your property does have deed records, they will describe the property and may also be accompanied by a deed map. Deed maps specifically concern themselves with the extent of the property. This means the map will indicate the precise location of your property boundary.
If there is more than one conveyance deed, the earliest deed is usually taken to be the most accurate source.
Of course, the deed records may show the property boundary on a map, but this will often be an invisible line running through a garden or piece of land. This can make it difficult to identify precisely where the boundary is with the naked eye.
To confuse matters, there is often a physical boundary between two properties, such as a hedge, fence, stream or wall. This physical boundary may have been used for many years, yet it does not necessarily correlate to the legal boundary. Physical features that delineate a boundary can also move and disappear over time, further blurring the line between what is shown on the deed map, and what can actually be seen on the ground.
That is why the deed map must be carefully analysed to determine the location of the legal boundary – as opposed to the visible (and potentially incorrect) physical boundary. This analysis is best conducted by a professional surveyor.
If you cannot find a deed map relating to your property, you may be tempted to turn to the Land Registry instead. The Land Registry records details of property ownership in Ireland. However, this does not always extend to precise boundaries between properties.
If there is a discrepancy between the legal boundary and the physical boundary of two properties, a boundary dispute may arise.
Boundary disputes often begin when someone wishes to take a particular course of action on a parcel of land, but their neighbour retorts, claiming the land as their own. For example, someone may wish to erect a fence, build a wall, plant or remove trees, lay pipes or build a driveway. This can lead to a dispute as to who actually owns the land. If the wall or fence has already been built, a neighbour may claim encroachment, whereby the new physical boundary is not in line with the legal boundary.
Disputes can also happen when someone feels aggrieved because their neighbour is using a piece of land which they believe rightfully belongs to them. This can happen when land is divided or shared between properties, whether by a voluntary agreement or otherwise. When a new owner assumes possession of one of the properties, it can cause confusion as to who actually owns what. This is particularly common with shared driveways.
Boundaries with divided ownership are another potential source of dispute. This can cause issues if one person wishes to carry out works at, on or near the boundary, but their neighbour does not consent. A failure to obtain consent (or a works order) could lead to allegations of trespassing and noise nuisance.
On the other hand, the dispute might actually concern who has responsibility for the boundary – dictating who is responsible for its upkeep and the associated cost. There may be a burst pipe, for example, or overhanging trees that have strayed over the boundary line.
Then there is the added matter of adverse possession. Adverse possession is when a third party has continuously occupied a piece of land for 12 or more years. If this occupation was exclusive, the third party attains a right over of the land. This is commonly referred to as squatters’ rights.
The term ‘squatters’ rights’ often conjures up images of people visibly occupying a piece of land. However, it can just as easily apply to boundary disputes, whereby a neighbour has been using a parcel of land for so long that they become entitled to keep it.
To avoid adverse possession, the legal owner must take action to recover the land within 12 years. If the legal owner fails to do so, their right to take action will be barred. The occupier can then make a claim for adverse possession. This requires them to prove that they have enjoyed adverse and exclusive possession of the property for 12 or more years. If this can be established, the occupier can gain the property title.
Resolving a boundary dispute
If a boundary dispute is not resolved within the required time frame, a legal owner may find that they lose the right to the piece of land in question.
Even where adverse possession is not an issue, neighbours are rarely content to overlook boundary disputes. Indeed, your property is probably your biggest asset. You do not want someone claiming part of it, when they have no legal right to do so. It can also create practical difficulties, potentially impacting your access rights, drainage rights and your right to light. Where responsibility for a boundary is in dispute, it can lead to disrepair and dilapidation.
Such disputes can cause a toxic atmosphere between neighbours, which is all the more unpleasant, considering you must live side-by-side. This can make you feel like a prisoner in your own home, and can lead to significant stress, anxiety and upset. However, neither party may be willing to back down.
So, what can you do to resolve a boundary dispute?
Your first step should be to seek expert legal advice. A solicitor who specialises in boundary disputes will shed light on your legal position. You will be asked about the nature of the dispute, including the history and location of the property and the way in which the disagreement has played out thus far.
Then, a solicitor can investigate the issue in further detail. Any relevant documents will be obtained and considered, such as the deed map. Your solicitor may request the help of a surveyor to determine the exact location of the legal boundary of the property, as opposed to the physical boundary.
This information can be referred back to you, clarifying whether or not you have a case to pursue. This is an extremely important step, as there is little point in you taking legal action, if your neighbour is not in the wrong. Otherwise, you may waste time and money pursuing a case that has little prospect of success.
However, if there is sufficient cause for action, the next step is to negotiate with your neighbour. Often, this is best achieved with the help of a solicitor. A letter from your solicitor may be all it takes to convince your neighbour that their position has little merit. Your solicitor can include evidence in support of your case, showing beyond reasonable doubt where the legal boundary begins and ends. This may be enough to resolve the dispute.
Other times, a more pragmatic approach is required. This is often the case where a boundary is shared, or the boundary line is not clear cut. If so, your solicitor can guide negotiations between you and your neighbour, with the aim of reaching an agreement. For instance, if you wish to conduct works on a shared boundary, you may agree to only work at certain times of day. You may also guarantee to cover the cost of any damage.
It can be hard to negotiate directly with your neighbour, as relations may have become so soured that it is now impossible to have a reasonable conversation. The use of a solicitor can ease these tensions, allowing you to negotiate via a third party. Your solicitor can also advise you of your rights and obligations, ensuring you do not agree to anything that could have an adverse impact later down the line.
If negotiations are not successful, you could try mediation instead. Mediation is when you and your neighbour meet with a specially trained mediator. The mediator is impartial and does not impose any kind of judgement. Instead, he/she will help you understand each other’s concerns and discuss the dispute in a constructive manner. The hope is that you will reach a mutually agreeable solution.
Mediation is a popular form of alternative dispute resolution. It can be particularly effective when it comes to resolving boundary disputes. This is beneficial for all concerned, not least because it enables an out-of-court resolution, allowing you to keep costs to a minimum. It also promotes healthy relations between you and your neighbour, something which will be very important if you are to continue living next to each other.
If all else fails, your final option is to pursue litigation through the courts. There will be a court hearing, at which the judge will hear evidence and examine the title deeds. The judge will then decide how the dispute should be resolved.
The details of this ruling will of course depend on the nature of your dispute. If your neighbour is refusing to grant consent for works to a shared boundary, then the judge may issue a works order, allowing you to proceed. However, this may be accompanied by certain terms and conditions, which may include the payment of compensation to your neighbour.
Or, if there is confusion as to where the boundary lies, the judge will offer their interpretation of the facts. The same applies if there is a dispute regarding responsibility for a boundary.
Taking a case to court is often an expensive exercise. Furthermore, the decision can be divisive, as there is often a ‘winner’ and ‘loser’. This can leave one party feeling extremely dissatisfied, enhancing feelings of animosity. It is therefore preferable to try to settle your claim outside of court first.
Speak to our solicitors today
If you are involved in a boundary dispute, please contact us at Gibson & Associates. Our dispute resolution lawyers will explain your options, working hard to resolve the issue outside of court. If action through the courts is needed, we will prepare and present your case, getting the result you deserve.
Complete our online enquiry form, or phone us on 01 872 3143 today.