How do you deal with a neighbour dispute?

Neighbour disputes don’t have to lead to legal action. Often discussing the issue with your neighbour, in a polite and constructive way, is all it takes to reach an agreement which is satisfactory to both of you. If you can’t resolve the dispute in this way, you should research your rights. Seeking advice from an expert property litigation solicitor can help you to discover where you stand legally.

What can I do about nuisance neighbours?

Nuisances caused by neighbours can cover a range of unwelcome behaviour. For certain problems, like loud noise, you might be able to complain to your local council. More serious issues might also justify a legal action for nuisance. However, trying to resolve the matter calmly between you and your neighbour should always be the first option you consider.

Can I take neighbours to court for noise?

Excessive noise is potential grounds for taking your neighbour to court for nuisance. However, court action should always be a last resort. Before doing this, speak to your neighbour politely about the noise and try to reach a compromise where possible. Another option is to complain to your local council about the noise. They should investigate and, if they consider the problem sufficiently serious, order your neighbour to stop.

What are common neighbour disputes?

At Truth Legal, the most common neighbour disputes we encounter tend to be noise complaints (and other nuisances), boundary disputes, and party wall disputes.

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession is a way for someone who occupies a piece of land, without legally owning it, to gain some rights over that land in certain situations. Adverse possession is often referred to as ‘squatters’ rights’ because of the rights which occupiers (or squatters) can obtain through it. Our answer below explains how adverse possession may come about.

How do I get adverse possession?

To gain rights over land through adverse possession, you must be in occupation of the land; you must have demonstrated that you intend to exercise control of the land (excluding everyone else – including the actual ‘owner on paper’ of it); and you must not be there with the actual owner’s consent. In addition, you must meet these conditions for an uninterrupted period of time – usually 10 or 12 years, depending on the land in question. After that time you can apply for formal recognition of your rights, although you should first seek advice from a specialist property litigation solicitor.

Can a family member claim adverse possession?

One of the main criteria of adverse possession is that the person looking to gain rights in the land cannot have been there with the legal owner’s consent. If you are worried that a family member who has been living in your house for some time could claim adverse possession, they would be unable to do so as they would have been in your house with your consent (presumably!). If your circumstances are more complicated, it is best to seek advice from a specialist property litigation solicitor.

How long do you have to occupy land before it becomes yours?

The answer depends on a few circumstances. Since 13th October 2003, you can apply for rights in registered land if you have been in adverse possession for at least 10 years. However, before 13th October 2003, the required period was 12 years for registered land. For unregistered land, the required period was, and remains, 12 years.

How much does an adverse possession claim cost?

The fee charged by the Land Registry, to apply for rights through adverse possession, is currently £130. If you are using solicitors to prepare the claim for you, there are likely to be legal fees payable on top of this. Instructing solicitors may not be necessary, however if you would like expert legal support, please contact us to discuss your case.

How long does it take to claim adverse possession?

Aside from the required time in occupation (see: ‘How long do you have to occupy land before it becomes yours?’), if you are applying to the Land Registry to register ownership through adverse possession, there are procedural timescales involved. The Land Registry will write to the registered land owner, allowing them 65 business days in which to respond to your application. Your claim will take longer if the owner opposes your application. An unsuccessful application will prevent you from reapplying for a further 2 years, in which time, the owner of the land could try to evict you.

Can adverse possession be challenged?

For registered land, the Land Registry will inform the registered owner of any applications to claim adverse possession over their land. This allows the registered owner to oppose the application. The applicant will be unable to obtain any rights in the land, unless they can rely upon one of three narrow conditions to support their claim. Challenging a claim for adverse possession in unregistered land is a much more complicated matter. For more information on challenging an adverse possession claim, you should seek advice from a specialist property litigation solicitor.

Can you claim adverse possession on registered land?

Yes, however, due to the processes outlined above, it can be more difficult to successfully claim adverse possession with registered land, as opposed to unregistered land. This is because the Land Registry will notify the registered owner of the land of any adverse possession applications and give them an opportunity to oppose it if they wish.

How do you prove adverse possession in the UK?

The main aspects of an adverse possession claim, which you must prove to be successful, are that: you were in exclusive possession of the land for the required time – usually either 10 or 12 years depending on the circumstances; that you had the intention to control the land; and that the legal owner did not consent to your presence there. Various pieces of evidence can support or deny these aspects of the claim. For example, if anyone else was accessing the land, or using it, such as the legal owner, you will not be able to prove exclusive possession.

What is the law on right to light?

Rights to light are generally tied to individual windows and skylights etc. An undeveloped piece of land, for example, has no right to light whereas an office skylight might. How much light they have a right to will depend on several things, such as the use of the building in question and its surrounding area. Legally speaking, rights to light are classed as easements (like rights of way, for example). This means they mostly arise through an implied right, or through the passage of time, such as when a window has been in place for at least 20 years.

How do you acquire the right to light?

A right to light can be acquired in several different ways. It could be through an express statement in a property’s title or other deeds, but this is rare in relation to rights to light. More frequently, a right to light will arise through implication – i.e. it is a right which is implied as necessary for the enjoyment of the property. Another alternative is that a right to light will arise through ‘long use’, in that the windows in question have been there for at least 20 years.

Does right of light apply to gardens?

Rights to light attach to windows, skylights and other apertures, so a garden will not necessarily have any enforceable rights to light. The windows of greenhouses or conservatories can benefit from rights to light. Additionally, it is possible for a garden to benefit from a right to light which has been expressly granted in the deeds relating to the property. This will be rare, however. If something on your neighbour’s land is affecting the enjoyment or use of your garden, you may have grounds to take action against them for nuisance.

How can I stop my neighbour from acquiring rights of light over my land?

If you intend to develop a site, and this could restrict light to a neighbour’s windows, you may be able to legally prevent those windows from acquiring a right to light. One option is to make a formal agreement with your neighbour, disclaiming any rights to light for those windows. Alternatively, for windows which have not already acquired a right to light (i.e. through ‘long use’), you could also apply to register a Light Obstruction Notice with the Local Authority. If this is successful it would effectively stop the windows acquiring the automatic right to light through long use.

What should I do if I receive a Light Obstruction Notice?

You can challenge a Light Obstruction Notice at any time within one year of receiving it. There is no need to acknowledge receipt of the Light Obstruction Notice, but you should seek legal advice from a specialist property litigation solicitor to find out more about your rights. Be aware that if it the Notice takes effect, it will prevent the windows in question on your property from ever acquiring a right to light, even if they would normally acquire this right by being there for at least 20 years.

What constitutes a public right of way?

A public right of way is road, route or path which can be used by any members of the public. Public rights of way can be appointed by the Highways Authority or they can arise in similar ways to other rights of way, e.g. through being in uninterrupted use for a minimum of 20 years. Public rights of way cannot be restricted by the owner of the land, such as by putting up gates or fences.

How do I get a right of way easement?

There are several ways in which you may gain a right of way easement over someone else’s land. The right could have been granted to you expressly in the deeds of your property. The right of way may have been ‘implied’, for example, where the right has arisen through necessity, such as having to go across another’s land to access your own. Finally, a right of way can arise through ‘long use’ – i.e. a right of way used by someone other than the land owner, without the owner’s permission, for a continuous period of at least 20 years.

Who is responsible for maintaining a right of way?

The Highways Authority is responsible for maintaining public rights of way but, with private right of way easements, this can be a much more complicated question. Some express easements will state who is responsible for maintaining the right of way. More commonly, however, it will not be so clear and disputes can occur as a result of this uncertainty. You should seek expert legal advice from a specialist property litigation solicitor for guidance on your specific situation.

Does a right of way expire?

There are a number of ways in which rights of way can expire. If the right of way was created expressly, the written terms may provide for an expiry date. Other ways include; where the owner of the ‘burdened’ land also becomes the owner of the ‘benefitted’ land; and where a right of way created by necessity is no longer essential. For public rights of way, the right of way may be changed or ended by the relevant Highways Authority.

What is the law on right of way?

The law relating to rights of way easements can be complicated. Our web page on rights of way provides a general overview. However, if you need advice regarding a specific situation you are facing regarding rights of way, please get in touch with one of Truth Legal’s specialist property solicitors.

Can you refuse an easement?

Easements can be created by agreement, so it follows that if your neighbour approaches you to agree an easement over your land, it is within your power to refuse. However, be aware that your neighbour may have grounds to impose an easement through legal action, e.g. where there is necessity. It may be possible in these situations to grant the right of way through a different form, rather than an easement. For example, you might be able to grant a licence of these rights, to retain a greater degree of control than that which an easement would allow you.

What is a party wall notice?

A party wall notice is a legal notification, which you must send to your neighbour if you are intending to carry out certain work on a party wall. You also have to serve this notice on your neighbour if you are intending to build structures, or carry out excavations, close to a shared boundary. It gives your neighbour advance warning of the work with a notice period of one or two months (depending on the proposed work). Party wall notices ‘expire’ if the work has not been started within 1 year – running from the date the notice was served.

What is party wall consent?

If you receive a party wall notice from your neighbour, you may choose to consent to the work they propose. This means you are willing for them to carry out the work. Even so, this does not affect your rights over any damage which the work causes to either the party wall or your property; your neighbour will still have to put this right if it occurs. To consent to a party wall notice, you must respond in writing with your assent within 14 days, otherwise you will be considered to have ‘dissented’ to the party wall notice (see below).

What is party wall dissent?

If you do not agree with the proposed work to a party wall, outlined in the party wall notice, or you do not consent to it within 14 days of the notice, you will be treated as dissenting. In this situation, a party wall award is required (sometimes, wrongly, called a party wall agreement). This normally involves you and your neighbour instructing an independent surveyor to assess the party wall and the proposed work. You may wish to seek legal advice if a party wall dispute arises.

What is section 1 of the Party Wall Act 1996?

This section covers building new walls or fences on the boundary line, or next to the boundary line, between two properties. It provides that the builder must give advance notice to their neighbour of their intentions. For new walls and fences on the boundary line, the other neighbour can agree to their construction – in which case it becomes a party wall and they become partly responsible for it – or they can refuse, and the builder must instead site the wall or fence on their side of the boundary line.

What is section 2 of the Party Wall Act 1996?

This section deals with the rights of neighbours in relation to an existing party wall. Each neighbour will have rights to maintain, alter, or demolish the party wall in certain circumstances. However, these rights are subject to making good any damage done to another neighbour’s property when carrying out any work.

What is section 6 of the Party Wall Act 1996?

This section covers situations where a property owner intends to dig, or erect or erect a building or structure, ‘close to’ a neighbour’s building or structure, and these works will go below the level of the foundations of the neighbour’s building. ‘Close’ can mean within 3 metres, or up to 6 metres in some circumstances. The section also contains provisions for notifying the neighbouring owner and making sure that their building is kept safe.

Is a party wall agreement a legal requirement?

For certain work, a party wall agreement is a legal requirement. This includes building or excavation work close to a shared boundary, and also for most kinds of work to existing party walls. It will involve serving a party wall notice in advance. If your neighbour agrees to this, there will be a party wall agreement and work can proceed. Where there are any areas of dispute or disagreement with proposed work on a party wall, you will need an independent surveyor (or surveyors for each party) to make a party wall award instead.

How long does it take to get a party wall agreement?

A party wall agreement can be obtained within 14 days, provided your neighbour consents to the proposed work, in writing, within that time. If your neighbour does not consent in that time, you will need an independent surveyor (or separate surveyors instructed by you and your neighbour) to create a party wall award. When a party wall award is needed, it might take 4 to 8 weeks, on average, to resolve the matter.

What happens if I don’t sign a party wall agreement?

If you do not assent to a party wall notice, a party wall award will be required before any of the work in question can take. One or more surveyors will then need to draw up the party wall award. If you disagree with the award, you can appeal to the county court to change or undo its terms. The court will judge whether you have justification for this and will make an order accordingly.

Can a party wall notice be served retrospectively?

The Party Wall Act 1996 does not allow for party wall notices to be served retrospectively. If an owner has started party wall work without the required notice being served, the adjoining owner can obtain an injunction from the court to stop the work. Failing to serve a party wall notice is also a breach of statutory duty, and the adjoining owner will have strong grounds to claim remedies for any damage to their property which the work has caused.

What is a party wall dispute?

A party wall dispute occurs when a neighbour does not consent to proposed work to a party wall, or proposed construction or excavation work close to a shared boundary. They can usually be resolved through the instruction of an independent surveyor, who will assess the party wall and the proposed work. However, sometimes party wall disputes can be difficult to settle. If so, you should seek specialist legal advice from a property litigation solicitor.

Does a party wall award transfer to the new adjoining owner?

The compensation rights, given by a party wall award, do not automatically transfer to a new adjoining owner. This means that if you are buying a property with an existing party wall award in place (relating to work being carried out by a neighbour), you should agree with the seller of the property that any compensation awarded by the party wall surveyor should be shared out according to any damage each of you have suffered.

What is a restrictive covenant on a property?

A restrictive covenant is form of legal promise not to use a property in a particular way. For example, a house might have a restrictive covenant providing that the occupiers will not carry on a business there. Restrictive covenants normally give some benefit to neighbouring land. If you break the terms of a restrictive covenant on your property, owners of neighbouring land might be able to take legal action against you. Even if a covenant was broken before you owned the property, anyone seeking to enforce the covenant can do so against you as the current owner of the property.

Can restrictive covenants be removed?

Restrictive covenants on land can be removed by agreement with the party which the covenant benefits, or by applying to the Lands Tribunal. In reality, however, both of these options are often impractical. A better alternative is often to guard against the potential harm of breaching a restrictive covenant, by arranging an indemnity insurance policy. This covers the possibility that a beneficiary of the covenant could take enforcement proceedings against you.

How long do restrictive covenants last?

Restrictive covenants attach to the land in question. This means that even if the land changes hands, the new owners will still be bound by the terms of the restrictive covenant.  Sometimes, the terms of a restrictive covenant will allow for its expiry after a certain period of time, but otherwise, a restrictive covenant will continue to apply indefinitely, even if it doesn’t seem relevant any more.

Does planning permission override a restrictive covenant?

No – restrictive covenants continue to apply, even if you have been granted planning permission from a local authority to do something on your property which would breach the terms of the restrictive covenant.

Who is the beneficiary of a restrictive covenant?

The beneficiary of a restrictive covenant is the party who derives a benefit from the restrictive covenant being in place. For example, where a restrictive covenant prevents a house being adapted for use as a business, the owners of properties neighbouring that house will be the likely beneficiaries. In very general terms, to enforce a restrictive covenant, a beneficiary has to prove that any breach of the covenant would have an adverse effect on the land which they own.

Are old restrictive covenants enforceable?

Unless the terms of a restrictive covenant specify a date or situation when it will end, restrictive covenants are technically enforceable no matter how old they are. This is because restrictive covenants continue to bind the land in question; they do not need any of the original parties who agreed the covenant to be involved for it to be enforceable.

Do restrictive covenants have to be registered?

Since 13th October 2003, any newly created restrictive covenants over a piece of land have to be registered with the Land Registry. If the restrictive covenant was created before this date, it should also be registered, but can still be binding even if it has not been entered on the register. For unregistered land, things are more complicated. Unregistered land can be subject to restrictive covenants that are detailed in the land’s deeds and/or registered as a land charge with the Land Charges Department. Upon first registration of a property, any restrictive covenants which can be discovered should be registered.

Are restrictive covenants common?

Restrictive covenants are very common and many properties in the UK have them on their title register or in their title deeds. Frequently encountered examples restrict the usage of the land in ways such as: carrying on a business or trade at the property, making certain alterations to a building, or conducting activities which may cause a nuisance to neighbouring land.

How do I find out what restrictive covenants are on my property?

If your property is registered, your first step should be to check your title register. A copy of this can be obtained from the Land Registry. However, even with registered land, this might not tell the full story. Checking the property’s title deeds, if you still have them, might reveal older restrictive covenants. These might still be enforceable even if they are not registered. For unregistered property, you should check with the Land Charges Department, as well as the title deeds for your property.

How much does it cost to remove a restrictive covenant?

Trying to remove a restrictive covenant can be costly and time-consuming. It will usually require an application to the Lands Tribunal. The Tribunal’s fee for lodging an application is currently £880, and additional, higher fees are payable if your case requires a hearing. It is often more cost-effective and practical to take out an indemnity insurance policy, to insure against the potential consequences of breaching the restrictive covenant.

Is a covenant legally binding?

Yes, if a restrictive covenant on your property is valid and enforceable then it will be legally binding upon you as the current owner of the property. This means if you breach the terms of a restrictive covenant, or the terms of the covenant have already been breached by your property’s previous owners, the owners of any land which benefits from the covenant might be able to take legal action against you.

What happens if you breach a restrictive covenant?

This will depend on whether there is any beneficiary of the restrictive covenant who wishes to enforce it. If you have breached a restrictive covenant and a beneficiary takes successful legal action, the court may make a number of possible orders. They might make an injunction, preventing you from breaching the covenant in future, and/or order you to undo, at your own expense, anything which has breached the terms of the covenant. For example, a structure built in breach of a covenant’s terms may have to be demolished. A court can also order you to pay damages to the beneficiary.

Can you help with restrictive covenant disputes?

Truth Legal can provide you with help and guidance if you find yourself in a restrictive covenant dispute.  Our property litigation solicitors can provide you with clear, practical advice on your legal situation. Call us today to arrange a consultation with one of our experts.

onrecord logo

Advised to keep a record? Do it properly with the expert help of ONRECORD. Approved by Truth Legal.

Find out more →

Start Your 60 Second Claim

Feel you have a personal injury claim, suffered as a result of clinical negligence or been dismissed unfairly? Whatever your case, we can help.