Frankly Speaking – by building and valuation surveyor Frank Davey of Allman Woodcock chartered surveyors in Norwich.
“That’s my fence, not yours”. The phrase guaranteed to make my heart sink. And my advice? Don’t bother to argue, just pass on the responsibility and cost of further repairs.
Okay, so it’s not always that simple and you might like to know who owns the fence, you might even want to repair or replace it. So who does own the fence? I’ll do my best to explain, but how long have you got?
Sometimes the ownership of a garden fence or wall is indicated by its position in relation to the house itself, if it starts at the corner of your building it’s probably your boundary fence, if it springs from your neighbour’s property then they’ll probably own it. And if it’s somewhere in the middle? Not many options there, it’s either yours, theirs or shared.
Property deeds and conveyances are being replaced by the Land Registry file plans which show the position of a boundary, more or less. Unless there is an accompanying description or more detailed plan attached, Land Registry plans can be as helpful as a bowl of spaghetti in unravelling the line of the boundary and who owns the fence. If the plan shows a T drawn on the boundary line then the responsibility to look after that boundary should belong with the side on which the T mark is drawn. If the Land Registry (or in the case of un-registered land, the conveyance document) is silent on the point, then there could be room for an argument.
There are some conventions which might give a clue, but these are not enshrined in law. It is often the case that the owner of the boundary puts up the fence posts, quite correctly, on their land. It would make most sense if the wood boarding, wire, or whatever means of fence separation between the properties, was fixed to the owner’s side of those posts, this would avoid going onto the neighbour’s for replacing or repairs. However, in order to protect those few inches of land which make up the width of the fence post, the cladding is more often fixed to the outside (neighbour’s) face of the posts and right on the boundary, they then get the advantage of the better view. So, if the fence post is on your side and the fence cladding is on the neighbour’s side, it is more commonly your fence, but don’t rely on it.
A hedge should be planted on one side of a boundary with enough room for it to grow to its future width. Perhaps not a yard (or in new money, a metre) inside, but certainly more than the six inches or so which is often the case. Even if any fence originally beside the hedge survives, in due time the presence of a hedge can give rise to a heated discussion about the boundary. Such arguments are best settled over a bottle of wine and a helping of common sense, if not you might never have a civil conversation with your neighbour again. Sure, your solicitor can help but in the first instance may have no further clue as to where the true boundary is than you. A solicitor might be needed to help prevent a silly act such as chopping down the fence but unless the neighbours agree the line, only the courts can decide boundary issues. Sure, I can give you my tuppenceworth of advice, but that’s for another time. In the meanwhile have that glass of wine and let your neighbour paint the fence.
*Frank Davey FRICS is at Allman Woodcock, on 01603 610243.