A new statutory procedure for boundary disputes?

…disputes between neighbours tend always to compel…. some unreasonable and extravagant behaviour which profits no one but the lawyers.” Lord Justice Ward, Court of Appeal

When you read about a boundary dispute in the newspaper, how often do you think that there has to be a better way of resolving the argument? Too often, the report will tell of the huge costs which have been run up by the disputing parties.  The courts often comment that the case is an unnecessary use of court time for a matter which ought to have been settled years before, by the application of common sense or, at least, a preparedness to listen to the advice of an independent expert.

A private member’s bill entitled Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill is now in the Parliamentary process and, if enacted, will set a whole new framework for settling boundary disputes.

If passed into law, the Bill sets out a new statutory procedure to be followed, supported by a Code of Practice to guide disputing parties and surveyors appointed by them, to settle boundary disputes. Such disputes will be taken out of the jurisdiction of the courts and, under such statutory procedure, will instead be determined by an agreed surveyor.

The process of settling a dispute will start with a landowner serving notice on an adjoining owner detailing, by reference to a plan, the exact boundary line, or the extent of a private right of way which is claimed, with a view to establishing the position of that boundary, or of the location and extent of the right of way.

If the adjoining owner disputes the notice served, or gives no response, a dispute is deemed to have arisen, which will then be referred to an agreed surveyor, for an expert’s determination.

In determining the dispute, the agreed surveyor will determine the precise location of the boundary, or the location and extent of the private right of way, on a dimensioned plan in a form acceptable to the Land Registry. This may show the extent to which a building, structure or other erection constructed on the land of one owner extends beyond the boundary onto, over or under the land of another. The agreed surveyor will also deal with an award of costs between the parties.

There will be an appeal process, to the Technology and Construction Court but only for a short period only following the making of the award.

The Bill is listed for a second reading in the House of Lords at the beginning of September 2015 and will then pass to the all-important Committee stage, where it will be examined in detail and amendments will be proposed.

We will monitor the progress of the Bill and comment on it further, in due course.

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