Apparently trifling neighbours’ disputes over a few inches of land have a nasty habit of taking on the proportions of a state trial, with legal costs to match. That was sadly so in a case, recently reviewed by David Watson, which concerned the positioning of a fence between two suburban gardens.
A couple were good friends with their neighbour before falling out with her after she erected a fence which they claimed encroached onto their land by a maximum of nine inches. After they launched proceedings against her, both sides presented evidence from property experts.
Ruling on the dispute, a judge found that neither the fence nor a replacement fence erected in its place when it sustained storm damage encroached onto the couple’s property. Even had such encroachment been proved, he reached the unhesitating conclusion that there was an informal boundary agreement between them that entitled the neighbour to position the fence where she did.
The judge found that the neighbour’s father had behaved disgracefully when he was filmed throwing waste over the fence into the couple’s garden. The neighbour well knew what he was doing and the judge warned that any repeat of such conduct might justify the grant of an injunction. The couple’s claim was, however, in all other respects dismissed.
The judge noted that the extent of the alleged encroachment would, in monetary terms, appear insubstantial to an outside observer. It was beyond comprehension that such an encroachment, even if proved, could warrant the substantial expense of the proceedings. The couple’s costs alone had been estimated at £90,000 plus VAT, and the neighbour’s costs were unlikely to be much less than that.
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