Whilst many neighbours are forging new friendships and helping one another out, other neighbours are proving somewhat more difficult to live with during the lockdown period. In most cases, solutions can be found amicably and through compromise. There is much to be said for de-escalating neighbourly disputes wherever possible. However, we can help if and when it becomes necessary to take matters further.
The scope of complaints falling within this bracket is wide. It ranges from loud music, noise emanating from wooden floorboards in flats, overhanging trees, water ingress, noisy pets, the spread of Japanese knotweed into your property, or even a failure to observe social-distancing regulations and guidelines. Often, a friendly conversation or even a firm solicitors' letter can resolve such issues.
If the matter becomes more contentious however, the 'test' for nuisance is generally that the damage or interference with the enjoyment of your property is substantial or unreasonable. Therefore, any dispute or even trial will depend on factual evidence, and in some cases, the findings of an expert. You must also be the freehold or leasehold owner of the property affected by the nuisance.
If you are a leaseholder in a block of flats, it is likely that you can require your landlord to enforce the covenants of your neighbour's lease against them, although your landlord is generally entitled to have its costs covered by you if they cannot be recovered from your neighbour. Your landlord will have a wide range of remedies available to it against your neighbour, which includes the right to forfeit or threaten to forfeit (i.e. 'terminate') your neighbour's lease and obtain possession of their property. The ability to obtain possession of residential property has temporarily been suspended until 30 June 2020, but the wheels can still be set in motion now.
Otherwise, freeholders or leaseholders affected by nuisance may have a claim for damages to compensate for losses suffered, or may apply for an injunction to require their neighbour to abate a continuing nuisance.
During the lockdown, you or your neighbour may find that there is much more time to explore the boundaries of your or their property. In some cases this can lead to dissatisfaction with the physical boundaries between properties.
In order to investigate the true or legal boundary between two properties, it is generally necessary for your solicitor and surveyor to act as a team. From a legal perspective, we can review the relevant documentation such as the original conveyancing file and title documentation. Your surveyor can survey the physical boundary between properties.
In most cases, Land Registry title plans only show the 'general', not the exact position of the boundary. Land is usually registered by the Land Registry without enquiries being made about the exact position of the boundary Land Registry plans are based on Ordnance Survey mapping which has some limitations in terms of scale and accuracy. In general terms, the width of a line on a 1;1250 OS map represents approximately 30 centimetres on the ground, which means that Land Registry plans showing 'general' boundaries cannot show every physical feature and contain a degree of 'tolerance'. In contentious cases, where neighbours are unwilling to live with a general boundary, an application can be made to the Tribunal for the precise line of boundary between the properties to be determined to a much higher degree of accuracy.