Boundary disputes between neighbours
Who owns the boundary between your property and your neighbour's?
The general rule is that any boundaries between your land and your neighbour’s land are jointly owned by both you and your neighbour. But you may be able to prove that you own a boundary structure outright. Even if you can show that you have outright ownership of a boundary structure, your neighbour may have certain rights over that structure.
If you do not know where the precise boundary between your property and your neighbour’s property is, or how the boundary is owned, you should start by investigating your title. Your title documents are the deeds and related papers that describe your land. Your property may be registered in the Land Registry. You should get legal advice if there is a dispute about the ownership of any part of your property or land.
A party structure is any structure that divides separately owned buildings, or is situated at a boundary line or so close to a boundary line that you could not carry out works to the structure without access to the adjoining structure or land.
A party structure can be a wall, arch, ceiling, floor, partition, ditch, fence, hedge, shrub, tree or any other structure.
Carrying out works to a party structure
You should always get your neighbour’s consent before carrying out works to a party structure. If you carry out works without your neighbour’s permission, your neighbour could take a claim for trespass and nuisance.
You must pay your neighbour’s reasonable costs for getting professional advice to assess the likely consequences of the work. You must also pay reasonable compensation for the inconvenience caused by the works and reimburse your neighbour for any damage done to their property.
You are entitled to take into account your neighbour’s use and enjoyment of the party structure when assessing the compensation they are due. If you fail to compensate your neighbour, they can apply to the District Court for an order to compel you to make good any damage, or to pay them for the costs and expenses.
Works include any of the following:
- Adjustment, alteration, cutting into or away, decoration, demolition, improvement, lowering, maintenance, raising, renewal, repair, replacement, strengthening or taking down
- Finding out the course of cables, drains, pipes, sewers, wires or other conduits and clearing, renewing, repairing or replacing them
- Cutting, treating or replacing any hedge, tree or shrub
- Clearing or filling in ditches
- Carrying out inspections, drawing up plans and performing other tasks required for, incidental to, or consequential on any of the works above
You are entitled to carry out works on a party structure in the following circumstances:
- Works that are required in order to comply with any statutory provision, for example, the requirements of the Building Regulations
- Exempted developments under the Planning Acts (developments for which planning permission is not needed), or developments for which you have planning permission or which are required in order to comply with the conditions of a planning permission
- Works required for the preservation of the party structure or of any building or unbuilt-on land of which it forms a part
- Any other works that will not cause substantial damage or inconvenience to your neighbour, or that even if they will cause damage or inconvenience, it is nevertheless reasonable to carry them out
You should be careful not to leave a party structure in a dangerous condition as a result of your actions.
If your neighbour does not consent to works
You can apply to the District Court for a works order. A works order may:
- Authorise you, or people authorised by you, to enter your neighbour’s building or land for any purpose connected with the works
- Require you to indemnify or give security to your neighbour for damages, costs and expenses caused by or arising from the works or likely to be caused or to arise
The procedure for getting a works order is set out in Order 93A of the District Court Rules. You must notify your neighbour of your intention to apply for a works order. The required form is available from the District Court clerk. There are also forms available for an application to the District Court for damage to be made good and for applications to modify or discharge (cancel) a works order. The other party must be notified in these cases as well.
Trees and hedges
A tree or hedge on a boundary is generally the property of both landowners. You are not allowed to cut down the tree or hedge without your neighbour’s permission. Overhanging branches or roots that are encroaching on your land can be cut back without permission, but only as far as the boundary line. You should still discuss this with your neighbour to avoid disagreements.
You should make sure that the tree is not the subject of a tree preservation order. Tree preservation orders are made by the local authority. You should check with the local authority before cutting back or taking any action against a tree that is subject to a tree preservation order.
Electricity and telecommunications companies have various rights to cut down or lop trees that are on private property that may obstruct wires, under the Electricity (Supply) Act 1927. They must give seven days’ notice to the landowner of their intention to do this. You may choose to have the work done yourself. If you do, you must notify the company within seven days, and the utility provider must pay the costs involved.