Ever gazed out of your window at your garden after a particularly windy night and thought: “Whose fence is that?”. If you're a homeowner in the UK, you're not alone.
Property boundaries and fence ownership are common disputes between neighbours. Understanding which fence is yours and your responsibilities as a homeowner is key to reducing arguments and making sure your gardens and their boundaries are well maintained and secure.
Remember, when it comes to property boundaries and fence ownership, it's always better to be informed and proactive. In this guide, we will help you find the answers to your questions so, next time it blows a gale, you know exactly who is responsible for picking up the pieces.
Whose fence is it anyway?
As a homeowner, it's vital to understand the boundaries of your property and, specifically, which fence belongs to you. This knowledge can stop neighbour disputes in their tracks and save you from unnecessary expenses.
So, let's get off the fence once and for all and pin down which fence is yours and what your rights and responsibilities are.
Left hand and right hand rules debunked
There's a common myth about fences and whether they are on the left-hand or right-hand side of your property.
The truth is that this is all stuff and nonsense. There is no rule based in law that says this.
Can I tell which fence is mine by just looking?
You can get some clues about which fence is yours by just looking.
For example, the land on which a wall or fence stands usually belongs to the person who owns the boundary. So, if you see a fence, the side that's farther from the property is probably where the actual boundary is.
Another clue that might help you in your detective work is which direction the frames of the fence are facing. Property developers often follow a rule where the 'nice-looking' side of the fence faces away from the property. That way, your neighbour gets the good-looking side.
So, if you're looking at the ugly side of a fence, then it might belong to you. Although this isn't always the case, and may not always be obvious if double sided fence panels have been used and both of you have the good side of the fence!
How do I find out which fence is mine, then?
To get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all and determine which fence is yours, you can follow these steps:
Check your Title Deeds
To be certain about who a boundary and fence belongs to, you'll want to check the title deeds to your property. If you own your home, you should have a copy of this in your paperwork, or you can ask the solicitor who handled your conveyancing (the legal stuff when you bought your house).
If you can't find the info in your title deeds, you might need to look at the plans registered with the Land Registry. Just be aware you'll likely have to pay a fee to access them.
When you've got your hands on these, keep an eye out for a "T" marked on one side of the boundary:
If the "T" is on your side, you're the one responsible for taking care of it.
If you see an "H" (which is actually two joined "Ts"), it means both you and your neighbour share responsibility for that boundary.
Now, if you've got a joint boundary and a party fence (a fence you both use), you'll need to chat with your neighbour and figure out how you want to handle it. You might take turns looking after it or even buy it from your neighbour. But if you go that route, you've got to go through a proper, legally recorded sale process to make it all official.
But here's the kicker: in England and Wales, there's no strict rule that says boundary ownership has to be mentioned in the title deeds.
So you may not find the answer there.
What if I can't work out which fence is mine?
If the title deeds don't shed any light on the answer to whose fence it is, you can have a chat with your neighbour and thrash out a boundary agreement between you.
A boundary agreement is a formal agreement that you and your neighbour can put together to spell out the property boundaries, including who owns and is responsible for each fence. It's a really good way of avoiding further arguments between you and your neighbour and future owners.
Boundary agreements are legal documents, so they need to be created in the right way. To make sure it's all properly written and officially recorded, it's a really good idea to get advice from a legal processional. They can make sure everything is crystal clear and fair.
Who is responsible for fence repair between neighbours?
If the fence belongs to your neighbour
This is a tricky question to answer because there is actually no law that says you have to have a fence, unless it's mentioned in the title deeds.
Neighbours also have no legal obligation to fix a fence, unless it's causing a safety issue.
So, if a neighbours fence blows down during a storm and it, or parts of it, end up in your garden, their only legal responsibility is to remove the fence from your land. They aren't actually required to replace it or fix it.
If the fence belongs to you
If your neighbour accidentally damages a fence that belongs to you, then it's their responsibility to fix it or replace it, just as they would be liable to fix or replace any other property of yours that they damage.
What can you do if a neighbour won't repair a fence?
If you believe it's time to repair the fence, but your neighbour is uncooperative, try talking to them first.
Often, neighbours take the initiative to repair or replace a fence when it is on their boundary for both privacy and security reasons.
But in the event that you have a stubborn neighbour, the best course of action might be mediation, or to put up your own fence within your boundary line which you can take responsibility for.
Can I paint my neighbours fence?
You can paint your side of your neighbours fence - if they say you can.
It's very rare that, with the right level of communication, a neighbour will refuse a request to change the appearance of a fence providing you are happy to foot the cost yourself.
Fences and adverse possession
It's not uncommon for homeowners to discover, in their quest to answer the question of which fence is theirs, that a fence is in the wrong place.
If this is the case and you discover that your garden is narrower than it should be as a result, you might wonder what your options are. Can you move the fence to its correct possession? And what if your neighbour refuses?
Get your facts right
Before you approach your neighbour, it's a good idea to double check the title plan and read the legal paperwork you have for your property.
You want to be sure that the position of the fence hasn't already been clarifies in a sale agreement or boundary agreement.
Check when the fence was installed
If the fence was installed more than 10 years ago, a neighbour could claim ownership of the land on their side using boundary rules, such as adverse possession, also known as squatters rights.
They would, however, need to provide proof to do this, which might involve contacting previous homeowners if they haven't lived in the property for more than 10 years.
Ask for permission
If you do decide you would like to move the fence to where it should be, it's important to ask your neighbour first.
Moving a fence without the consent of your neighbour could escalate a dispute, and may even count as criminal damage in some cases.
If your neighbour doesn't give consent, it is possible you may be able to get a court order to move the fence.
Consider if it's worth the fight
Only you can decide if the land you want to reclaim is worth the problems it may cause between you and your neighbour.
Neighbour disputes can become difficult very quickly and damage relationships beyond repair.
If you do decide to take action, you should have a good idea of the strength of your case and how much it is likely to cost should you go down the route of legal action to reclaim your land.
Getting legal help to resolve a boundary dispute
If you find yourself in a bitter neighbour dispute over property boundaries, it may be time to seek legal assistance.
Boundary disputes can become emotionally charged, so having a solicitor's guidance can help you navigate these situations effectively.
At Lawhive, our team of expert property solicitors is ready to assist you with your boundary and fence-related concerns.
We offer fixed-rate prices to ensure you have access to professional advice without breaking the bank. Don't hesitate to reach out if you need help resolving these issues, as early intervention can prevent disputes from escalating.
To get started, tell us about your case using our simple online form.